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ICRC Chief Faults Rights Protection at Guantanamo

By Josh White
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, April 5, 2007 8:54 PM

The president of the International Committee of the Red Cross said Thursday that the United States has inadequate procedures to protect the human rights of foreign detainees at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, and called for a "more robust" system to determine whether to release hundreds of men who probably will never face trial.

Jakob Kellenberger said he is concerned that the processes set up at Guantanamo to assess whether detainees are enemy combatants and whether they should remain there indefinitely infringe on the rights of men who have no clear way of challenging their detentions. Kellenberger said he raised his concerns in meetings with senior Bush administration officials this week, and found them open to discussion.

"I felt that the present safeguard mechanisms are really not strong enough," Kellenberger said in an interview with Washington Post reporters and editors, adding that the detainees should be able to appeal their detentions in a fashion similar to the use of habeas corpus. "These people are four or five years deprived of their freedom, and despite investigations, no crimes came about."

Faulting the Military Commissions Act of 2006, Kellenberger said his organization has problems with any nation using hearsay evidence or evidence derived from coercion. There are efforts underway in Congress to overhaul that act, which governs the trials for detainees at Guantanamo.

Military prosecutors said last week that they believe they can bring charges against about 75 detainees at Guantanamo, which would leave more than 300 who may or may not ever face a trial. Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates said recently that he wants to close the Guantanamo detention facility because of its negative international image.

Kellenberger said he believes ICRC visits to Guantanamo Bay and many U.S. prisons in Afghanistan and Iraq have forced meaningful improvements in detention policy. He noted that the Guantanamo facility in particular is no longer like what it was in 2002 and 2003.

Representatives of the ICRC, a human rights organization based in Switzerland, confidentially visit more than 20,000 detainees in U.S. custody around the world. ICRC officials said yesterday that they visit about 16,000 detainees in permanent U.S. facilities in Iraq, but that they are unsure if they are seeing everyone.

Kellenberger declined to discuss ICRC conversations with detainees, but he said his main concern is that detainees receive fair trials and that those who are not tried be released or transferred to other countries. Kellenberger said that, in his meetings this week with Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and Gates, the U.S. officials present were "sensitive" to his concerns, and that he believes the issues are now "moving in a better direction."

"The Americans are asking where they should go. It is a big challenge, having people you would like to release and not finding a country where you can send them," Kellenberger said. "Other countries should make an effort to accept them."

He said he does not know if the United States still operates secret prisons around the world, as President Bush admitted in September when he ordered the transfer of 14 high-value detainees from CIA prisons and into Guantanamo. Kellenberger said his organization is searching for as many as 50 people believed to have been captured worldwide, adding that the U.S. government has the ICRC's list.

"I cannot exclude it, nor can I prove it," he said of the possibility that the United States has detainees in secret prisons. "There are individuals we cannot find."

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