washingtonpost.com  > Nation > National Security

Red Cross Cites 'Inhumane' Treatment at Guantanamo

By Josh White and John Mintz
Washington Post Staff Writers
Wednesday, December 1, 2004; Page A10

The International Committee of the Red Cross found "cruel, inhumane and degrading" treatment of detainees at the U.S. military prison in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, during inspections there last summer, and issued a formal report in July that said some interrogation tactics come close to torture, a source who has seen portions of the report said yesterday.

The human rights group decried tactics used on some detainees -- including severe temperatures, loud music and other sounds, the sharing of medical information with interrogators, and forced nudity -- that it said violate international rules against torture adopted by the United States and other countries.

The report marked the first time that the ICRC formally noted potentially serious violations of international law, including physical torture, at the U.S. Navy base where the administration has held captives in connection with the war on terrorism since early 2002, the source said. ICRC reports are confidential.

A Pentagon spokesman said yesterday that defense officials "vehemently deny any allegations of torture at Guantanamo, and reject categorically allegations that the treatment of detainees at Guantanamo is improper." The spokesman said numerous investigations of operations at the prison have found no "credible instances of detainee abuse."

The Washington Post reported in June that military interrogators at Guantanamo Bay were given access to the medical records of individual prisoners despite repeated objections from the Red Cross, a breach of patient confidentiality that ethicists said violated international medical standards designed to protect captives.

The New York Times reported in yesterday's editions the Red Cross had said in a July report that some of the physical and psychological tactics used on Guantanamo detainees amounted to torture.

Also yesterday, a group of lawyers representing four Iraqis who say they were abused at Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq filed a criminal complaint in a German court alleging that top U.S. military and civilian leaders are guilty of international war crimes. So far, only a few low-ranking soldiers have been charged with abuse.

The complaint singles out Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld; Stephen A. Cambone, undersecretary of defense for intelligence; George J. Tenet, former director of the CIA; Army Lt. Gen. Ricardo S. Sanchez; and six other high-ranking military officials. The attorneys argue that the officials shaped, condoned, authorized and possibly ordered policies and tactics that led to abuse at Abu Ghraib, but that U.S. authorities have been unwilling to charge them.

The 160-page complaint was filed yesterday in the federal prosecutor's office at the Karlsruhe Court in Germany, taking advantage of German war crimes laws that give the court "universal jurisdiction" over people and incidents with little or no connection to Germany. A prosecutor is obligated to investigate the claims but does not have to act on them further.

Led by the Center for Constitutional Rights in New York, the criminal complaint alleges that Rumsfeld and others are directly responsible for dozens of abuses at Abu Ghraib and the policies that were first developed for use in Afghanistan and Guantanamo Bay. Citing well-publicized administration memos and policies, three lawyers said yesterday that they believe top officials should be held accountable for the abuse discovered in Iraq.

"The U.S. administration has gone out of its way to destroy the whole fabric of the laws of war," Peter Weiss, a vice president of CCR, said in a conference call from Berlin. "They have redefined torture, they have redefined the laws of war, they have given themselves the right to ignore the Geneva Conventions, even though those conventions are equally apt to protect the U.S. troops as they are to protect Afghans and Iraqis."

The information in the complaint is exactly what defense attorneys for seven military police soldiers charged with abuse have been calling for. It attacks U.S. interrogation policies as illegal and torturous, and links the abuse in Iraq to the highest levels of U.S. government. The complaint also alleges that Pentagon officials knew about the abuse and did nothing to stop it.

In the ICRC report, officials at the Pentagon were criticized for allowing abusive interrogation tactics, including psychological and physical abuse, to occur. According to a military source, a psychological operations commander told a conference in Raleigh, N.C., in November that psychological operations were being used against detainees at Guantanamo.

The physical tactics noted by the Red Cross included placing detainees in extremely cold rooms with loud music blaring, and forcing them to kneel for long periods of time, the source familiar with the report said. Among the alleged tactics designed to humiliate the detainees was having them strip off their clothes. At other times, female personnel were allowed to interrogate them, which could be demeaning to some Muslim men.

None of the allegations concerned tactics documented at Abu Ghraib, where some detainees were forced to lie naked on one another or masturbate.

In its final report, the ICRC said that some doctors used patient records to help military interrogators gather information, which the ICRC called a "flagrant violation of medical ethics."

"This latest report tells us two things -- that the abuse at Abu Ghraib was only a small piece of a much larger, systemic failure to uphold U.S. and international laws against torture; and that even after that abuse was revealed and condemned as unlawful and immoral by leaders of both political parties, the government failed to act on its moral certainty," according to a statement released by Deborah N. Pearlstein, director of the U.S. Law and Security Program at Human Rights First, which has been monitoring alleged abuse by U.S. forces.

Staff writer Thomas E. Ricks contributed to this report.

© 2004 The Washington Post Company