ICRC in US for Guantanamo talks

Eight months after openly criticising the US treatment of detainees at Guantanamo Bay naval base, the head of the International Committee of the Red Cross is back in Washington for talks with senior administration officials.

    Human rights groups have criticised conditions of prisoners

    Jakob Kellenberger, who arrived in the US capital on Thursday, is scheduled to meet with US Secretary of State Colin Powell, National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice and Deputy Defence Secretary Paul Wolfowitz, said the ICRC in a statement.

    It added that the Guantanamo situation would be top of the agenda, as it was last May when Kellenberger met with Powell and Rice.
    In an unusual act after that meeting, Kellenberger publicly called for US authorities to institute due legal process for the more than 650 detainees at Guantanamo and also demanded significant changes in their conditions of detention.

    Washington has labelled the Guantanamo detainees "enemy combatants" and says they may be held indefinitely without charge. It plans to try some of them before special military tribunals.

    Unusual ICRC move

    The neutral, Swiss-run ICRC visits detainees held in conflict zones all round the world to check on conditions and allow prisoners to exchange messages with their families.

    Detainees exercise at camp X-Ray
    at the Guantanamo Bay Naval Base

    It usually refuses to comment on its criticisms and concerns about conditions of detainment, preferring to negotiate privately with the country involved to obtain improvements.

    As guardian of the Geneva Conventions on warfare, the Geneva-based ICRC encourages signatory countries to comply with their obligations toward occupied countries, war captives and victims of war.

    The United States has refused to recognize most of the Guantanamo detainees as prisoners of war- a classification which would give them certain rights under the Geneva Conventions. The ICRC insists that they should be given that designation unless a tribunal determines otherwise.

    It was unlikely that Kellenberger would raise the issue of detained ousted Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein's prisoner status, said an ICRC spokesperson.
    The ICRC said Kellenberger's talks in Washington will also cover the humanitarian situation and ICRC activities in occupied Iraq, the occupied Palestinian territories, Israel and Afghanistan.

    SOURCE: Aljazeera + Agencies


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