The ICRC has had an instrumental role in monitoring the health of prisoners of war for more than 75 years. Until recently the United States respected that role and criticized countries who failed to allow the ICRC the access to prisoners and civilians that the Geneva Conventions require…. But that was then and this is now.
As stated on the ICRC’s website (http://www.icrc.org/web/eng/siteeng0.nsf/htmlall/usa-detention-update-121205?opendocument) :
The ICRC has been visiting people detained in connection with armed conflicts since 1915 when its delegates first negotiated access to tens of thousands of prisoners of war held during World War One. The ICRC's practice of visiting prisoners of war – combatants captured during an international armed conflict – was codified in the Geneva Conventions of 1949, to which all states are party. Common Article Three of the Four Geneva Conventions also gives the ICRC the right to request access to persons detained in non-international armed conflicts such as civil wars. Under the statutes of the International Red Cross and Red Crescent Movement, the ICRC can moreover request access to persons detained in connection with situations of violence that fall below the threshold of armed conflict. These statutes were approved in 1986 by the International Conference of the Red Cross in which States party to the Geneva Conventions including the United States, participated.
The purpose and procedures of the ICRC visits is also explained on that same page of the website:
ICRC detention visits are usually carried out by a team of specialized delegates as well as interpreters and medical personnel when appropriate. The organisation follows the same standard working procedures wherever it visits detainees. These include:
ICRC delegates must be able to speak in total privacy with each and every detainee held; delegates inspect all cells and other facilities.
Visits are carried out at a frequency of the ICRC's choice and for as long as people are held in detention.
All detainees have the opportunity to write to their families using the Red Cross message system and to receive Red Cross messages from their next of kin.
Delegates conduct confidential discussions with the camp authorities before and after each visit to raise concerns and make recommendations where appropriate.
The ICRC individually registers the identities of detainees falling within its area of concern. This makes it possible to monitor the situation of each detainee throughout his or her period in detention.
Al-Ghizzawi does in fact have periodic visits from representatives of the ICRC who, on occasion, bring him mail. Unfortunately he has not had a visit from the medical doctors of the ICRC for almost one year. Both Al-Ghizzawi and his Counsel have made repeated requests for such a visit…. however the ICRC has told counsel and Al-Ghizzawi that Guantanamo keeps it very busy and therefore medical visits have not taken place.
However, one of the unfortunate aspects of the ICRC presence at Guantanamo is that the ICRC has no power to even control the five point plan listed above for its visits … They cannot make any of the demands in procedures as outlined above…nevertheless demand a prisoners’ rights to adequate medical care … well let me rephrase that, they can make any demand that they want… but when the US says “no” they have to make a choice… keep their foot in the door or take their staff (and letters to prisoners from their families) and go home… or grit their collective teeth and stay with it. I have met with ICRC representatives on two occasions, once in April 2006 and a second time in November 2006, to express my concern over Al-Ghizzawi’s health and to ask the ICRC to put pressure on the medical team at Guantanamo to treat Al-Ghizzawi. I have also exchanged emails with the Guantanamo representatives for the ICRC. The ICRC personnel that I have met are all hard working individuals who believe in the humanitarian mission of the ICRC and truly want to provide the services mandated by the Geneva Conventions, but the ICRC mission has been hopelessly obstructed by the US government.
My April 2006 meeting took place just before the then current Guantanamo representative was leaving his Guantanamo Post. It was extremely difficult setting up that meeting… he was clearly a man that just wanted to get the hell out of the US and did not want to spend any time talking with a Guantanamo prisoner’s attorney, nevertheless an attorney for a very ill Guantanamo prisoner. The representative was a long time ICRC employee and when we finally met he admitted to me that Guantanamo was the most difficult placement in his many years at the ICRC. In fact, he stated that working at Guantanamo was worse than working in Iraq during the Iraq/Iran war (where he was previously placed) because of the constant meddling and obstruction by the United States military to the ICRC mission, in clear derogation of this nation’s treaty obligations and customary international law. (In other words... Bush was worse than Saddam)
Some of that meddling and interference became public late last year when the Guantanamo “handbook” was made public on the whistleblower site Wikileaks (http://www.wikileaks.org/wiki/Guantanamo_manual_shows_continued_abuses) …… The handbook described the military’s “procedures” when it came to the ICRC visits and proved that the United States was systematically deceiving the ICRC and hiding prisoners or refusing the complete access to prisoners that the Geneva Conventions requires, specifically the manual states:
“ICRC visit lists should be scrubbed to insure there are no discrepancies such as disciplinary actions or restricted ICRC access.”
“ICRC personnel are allowed to talk to detainees on all blocks at the detainee’s cell as long as there is no interference with the safeguard of US Forces or detainees, except for detainees placed at the Maximum Security Units (MSU).
ICRC personnel are allowed to talk to detainees who are placed in MSU for disciplinary reasons only with the exception of the following:
(1) Detainees placed in MSU by the JIG will be listed on the MSU log. Their level of allowable contact with ICRC will be listed on the MSU log…”
“All detainees will have a level of ICRC contact designated for them. . .
a) No Access: No contact of any kind with the ICRC. This includes the delivery of ICRC mail.
b) Restricted: ICRC is allowed to ask the detainee about health and welfare only. No prolonged questions.
c) Unrestricted: ICRC is allowed full access to talk to the detainee.
d) Visual: Access is restricted to visual inspection of the detainee’s physical condition. No form of communication is permitted. No delivery of ICRC mail.”
(Isn't it convenient that we put into writing our war crimes?? It will make prosecution that much easier....)
My second meeting with the ICRC was in November 2006. This time I met with one of the ICRC medical doctors who was assigned to Guantanamo at that time. Prior to the meeting I sent court documents to the doctor outlining my attempts to obtain Al-Ghizzawi’s medical records and a copy of the release for the medical records signed by Al-Ghizzawi. At the beginning of the meeting the medical doctor mistakenly thought that I had obtained Al-Ghizzawi’s medical records and started the conversation by expressing his disgust with the United States military for the lack of medical care being provided for Al-Ghizzawi (whom he had recently seen) and the steady decline of Al-Ghizzawi’s health as shown by the then recent test results in his medical file (unlike me, the ICRC has access to al-Ghizzawi’s medical file and maintains detailed notes regarding his failing health). The ICRC doctor specifically described certain tests that showed the deterioration of Al-Ghizzawi’s health and expressed his frustration and anger at the position taken by the military in refusing to treat Al-Ghizzawi despite the ICRC doctor’s own stated concern and specific request.
I explained to the medical doctor that I had not, in fact, actually obtained copies of Al-Ghizzawi’s medical records, nor had I even been permitted to see those records at all. The ICRC doctor was quite concerned about this and told me that he would not have discussed the tests had he realized I had not seen the records. The doctor asked me to keep what he said confidential,( something I did for a short time). The tests that the doctor was referring to related to Al-Ghizzawi’s hepatitis and liver condition. The ICRC doctor candidly stated that the affidavits of Guantanamo’s medical doctor that were filed in Al-Ghizzawi’s case appeared to be drafted to conceal or downplay the test results, rather than explain them. When the meeting concluded the ICRC doctor said that he would try to check in on Al-Ghizzawi periodically but he admitted that his hands were tied because he simply could not force the military to provide the necessary medical care. The ICRC doctor also admitted that it was difficult to see everyone who was ill at Guantanamo because of the medical deterioration of so many of the prisoners, in addition to those prisoners involved in the hunger strike who were being cruelly forcibly fed.
Until later in 2007 I kept the ICRC information confidential hoping that the ICRC medical doctors would succeed in pressuring the military at Guantanamo to treat Al-Ghizzawi. Eventually, I went public with the truth and to illustrate that which the ICRC cannot reveal… that the ICRC can only watch the medical deterioration and gross and outrageous malpractice at the base but can do absolutely nothing to stop it ….and even more disturbingly, that the United States is taking advantage of the confidentiality of the ICRC in the same way that the most abhorrent governments have similarly abused that humanitarian organization... by hiding its malfeasance behind the cloak of ICRC visits.