Red Cross Visits Guantanamo Bay

An Afghans released from the U.S. prision in Guantanamo Bay heads home in Kabul, Afghanistan, Thursday, Oct 12, 2006.
The Red Cross met at Guantanamo Bay with 14 new "high-value detainees," including Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, the alleged mastermind of the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks, a Pentagon spokesman said Thursday.

The encounters apparently mark the first time the 14 detainees have met with anyone other than their captors since they were arrested, held in CIA custody at secret locations, and transferred weeks ago to Guantanamo Bay Naval Base in Cuba. Among them are the alleged architects of the 2000 bombing of the USS Cole and the U.S. Embassy bombings in Kenya and Tanzania.

Simon Schorno, a spokesman in Washington for the International Committee of the Red Cross, declined to discuss specifics or even confirm the encounters had taken place. In meetings with prisoners, Red Cross officials explain that they are visiting as monitors.

"The detainee is not forced to speak to us," Schorno said. "It is up to the detainee to raise any issues that fall within our concern, for example past detentions and current conditions. It's up to the detainee to address whatever he wants to address."

The Red Cross also can take messages the detainees write, subject to military censorship, for delivery to their family members, he said.

The Red Cross, which arrived at Guantanamo Bay on Sept. 25, met the 14 newest detainees this week, said Navy Lt. Cmdr. Jeffrey Gordon.

"They have had access to the 14 high-value detainees at Guantanamo this week," Gordon said at the Pentagon.

Navy Cmdr. Robert Durand, a spokesman at Guantanamo, said the Red Cross delegation has completed its visit. In a statement, he declined to specify which detainees the Red Cross met with or what was said.

Mohammed was believed to be the No. 3 al Qaeda leader before he was captured in Pakistan in 2003. Also among the 14 new detainees are Ramzi Binalshibh, who is accused of helping plan the Sept. 11 attacks and being a lead operative for a foiled plot to crash aircraft into London's Heathrow Airport, and Abu Zubaydah, who was believed to be a link between Osama bin Laden and many al Qaeda cells before he was captured in Pakistan in 2002.

President George W. Bush on Sept. 6 announced they had been moved from CIA custody to Guantanamo for trial.

Army Brig. Gen. Edward A. Leacock, the deputy commander of Guantanamo, told journalists last month that the 14 new detainees were receiving medical and dental exams. Authorities have said they are being held in a maximum-security area but refused to say precisely where.

The detainees reportedly underwent coercive interrogations while being held by the CIA. Bush declined to disclose the techniques but denied they constituted torture.

While at Guantanamo Bay, the 14 high-value detainees are protected by Common Article 3 of the Geneva Conventions, which prohibits torture and cruel or degrading treatment, Durand said.

With the repatriation Thursday of 17 detainees, most of them Afghans, there are currently some 440 detainees at Guantanamo, said Lt. Cmdr. Chito Peppler, a Pentagon spokesman.

Of the 16 Afghans released, most were innocent and had been turned in to the U.S. military by other Afghans because of personal disputes, said Sibghatullah Mujaddedi, head of Afghanistan's reconciliation commission. Many had been held for four years, he said.

British Foreign Secretary Margaret Beckett said Thursday that the detention without trial of hundreds of suspects at Guantanamo Bay is "unacceptable in terms of human rights" and "ineffective in terms of counterterrorism."

She released Britain's annual report on human rights around the world, which called for the prison camp to be closed.