Red Cross Finds Detainee Abuse in Guantánamo
By NEIL A. LEWIS
Published: November 30, 2004
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WASHINGTON, Nov. 29 - The International Committee of the Red Cross has
charged in confidential reports to the United States government that the
American military has intentionally used psychological and sometimes
physical coercion "tantamount to torture" on prisoners at Guantánamo
The finding that the handling of prisoners detained and interrogated at
Guantánamo amounted to torture came after a visit by a Red Cross
inspection team that spent most of last June in Guantánamo.
The team of humanitarian workers, which included experienced medical
personnel, also asserted that some doctors and other medical workers at
Guantánamo were participating in planning for interrogations, in what
the report called "a flagrant violation of medical ethics."
Doctors and medical personnel conveyed information about prisoners'
mental health and vulnerabilities to interrogators, the report said,
sometimes directly, but usually through a group called the Behavioral
Science Consultation Team, or B.S.C.T. The team, known informally as
Biscuit, is composed of psychologists and psychological workers who
advise the interrogators, the report said.
The United States government, which received the report in July, sharply
rejected its charges, administration and military officials said.
The report was distributed to lawyers at the White House, Pentagon and
State Department and to the commander of the detention facility at
Guantánamo, Gen. Jay W. Hood. The New York Times recently obtained a
memorandum, based on the report, that quotes from it in detail and lists
its major findings.
It was the first time that the Red Cross, which has been conducting
visits to Guantánamo since January 2002, asserted in such strong terms
that the treatment of detainees, both physical and psychological,
amounted to torture. The report said that another confidential report in
January 2003, which has never been disclosed, raised questions of
whether "psychological torture" was taking place.
The Red Cross said publicly 13 months ago that the system of keeping
detainees indefinitely without allowing them to know their fates was
unacceptable and would lead to mental health problems.
The report of the June visit said investigators had found a system
devised to break the will of the prisoners at Guantánamo, who now number
about 550, and make them wholly dependent on their interrogators through
"humiliating acts, solitary confinement, temperature extremes, use of
forced positions." Investigators said that the methods used were
increasingly "more refined and repressive" than learned about on
"The construction of such a system, whose stated purpose is the
production of intelligence, cannot be considered other than an
intentional system of cruel, unusual and degrading treatment and a form
of torture," the report said. It said that in addition to the exposure
to loud and persistent noise and music and to prolonged cold, detainees
were subjected to "some beatings." The report did not say how many of
the detainees were subjected to such treatment.
Asked about the accusations in the report, a Pentagon spokesman provided
a statement saying, "The United States operates a safe, humane and
professional detention operation at Guantánamo that is providing
valuable information in the war on terrorism."
It continued that personnel assigned to Guantánamo "go through extensive
professional and sensitivity training to ensure they understand the
procedures for protecting the rights and dignity of detainees."
The conclusions by the inspection team, especially the findings
involving alleged complicity in mistreatment by medical professionals,
have provoked a stormy debate within the Red Cross committee. Some
officials have argued that it should make its concerns public or at
least aggressively confront the Bush administration.
The International Committee of the Red Cross, which is based in Geneva
and is separate from the American Red Cross, was founded in 1863 as an
independent, neutral organization intended to provide humanitarian
protection and assistance for victims of war.
Its officials are able to visit prisoners at Guantánamo under the kind
of arrangement the committee has made with governments for decades. In
exchange for exclusive access to the prison camp and meetings with
detainees, the committee has agreed to keep its findings confidential.
The findings are shared only with the government that is detaining
Beatricé Mégevand-Roggo, a senior Red Cross official, said in an
interview that she could not say anything about information relayed to
the United States government because "we do not comment in any way on
the substance of the reports we submit to the authorities."
Ms. Mégevand-Roggo, the committee's delegate-general for Europe and the
Americas, acknowledged that the issue of confidentiality was a chronic
and vexing one for the organization. "Many people do not understand why
we have these bilateral agreements about confidentiality," she said.
"People are led to believe that we are a fig leaf or worse, that we are
complicit with the detaining authorities."
She added, "It's a daily dilemma for us to put in the balance the
positive effects our visits have for detainees against the
Antonella Notari, a veteran Red Cross official and spokeswoman, said
that the organization frequently complained to the Pentagon and other
arms of the American government when government officials cite the Red
Cross visits to suggest that there is no abuse at Guantánamo. Most
statements from the Pentagon in response to queries about mistreatment
at Guantánamo do, in fact, include mention of the visits.
In a recent interview with reporters, General Hood, the commander of the
detention and interrogation facility at Guantánamo, also cited the
committee's visits in response to questions about treatment of
detainees. "We take everything the Red Cross gives us and study it very
carefully to look for ways to do our job better," he said in his
Guantánamo headquarters, adding that he agrees "with some things and not
"I'm satisfied that the detainees here have not been abused, they've not
been mistreated, they've not been tortured in any way," he said.
Scott Horton, a New York lawyer, who is familiar with some of the Red
Cross's views, said the issue of medical ethics at Guantánamo had
produced "a tremendous controversy in the committee." He said that some
Red Cross officials believed it was important to maintain
confidentiality while others believed the United States government was
misrepresenting the inspections and using them to counter criticisms.
Mr. Horton, who heads the human rights committee of the Bar Association
of the City of New York, said the Red Cross committee was considering
whether to bring more senior officials to Washington and whether to make
public its criticisms.
The report from the June visit said the Red Cross team found a far
greater incidence of mental illness produced by stress than did American
medical authorities, much of it caused by prolonged solitary
confinement. It said the medical files of detainees were "literally
open" to interrogators.
The report said the Biscuit team met regularly with the medical staff to
discuss the medical situations of detainees. At other times,
interrogators sometimes went directly to members of the medical staff to
learn about detainees' conditions, it said.
The report said that such "apparent integration of access to medical
care within the system of coercion" meant that inmates were not
cooperating with doctors. Inmates learn from their interrogators that
they have knowledge of their medical histories and the result is that
the prisoners no longer trust the doctors.
Asked for a response, the Pentagon issued a statement saying, "The
allegation that detainee medical files were used to harm detainees is
false." The statement said that the detainees were "enemy combatants who
were fighting against U.S. and coalition forces."
"It's important to understand that when enemy combatants were first
detained on the battlefield, they did not have any medical records in
their possession," the statement continued. "The detainees had a wide
range of pre-existing health issues including battlefield injuries."
The Pentagon also said the medical care given detainees was first-rate.
Although the Red Cross criticized the lack of confidentiality, it agreed
in the report that the medical care was of high quality.
Leonard S. Rubenstein, the executive director of Physicians for Human
Rights, was asked to comment on the account of the Red Cross report, and
said, "The use of medical personnel to facilitate abusive interrogations
places them in an untenable position and violates international ethical
Mr. Rubenstein added, "We need to know more about these practices,
including whether health professionals engaged in calibrating levels of
pain inflicted on detainees."
The issue of whether torture at Guantánamo was condoned or encouraged
has been a problem before for the Bush administration.
In February 2002, President Bush ordered that the prisoners at
Guantánamo be treated "humanely and, to the extent appropriate with
military necessity, in a manner consistent with" the Geneva Conventions.
That statement masked a roiling legal discussion within the
administration as government lawyers wrote a series of memorandums, many
of which seemed to justify harsh and coercive treatment.
A month after Mr. Bush's public statement, a team of administration
lawyers accepted a view first advocated by the Justice Department that
the president had wide powers in authorizing coercive treatment of
detainees. The legal team in a memorandum concluded that Mr. Bush was
not bound by either the international Convention Against Torture or a
federal antitorture statute because he had the authority to protect the
nation from terrorism.
That document provides tightly constructed definitions of torture. For
example, if an interrogator "knows that severe pain will result from his
actions, if causing such harm is not his objective, he lacks the
requisite specific intent even though the defendant did not act in good
faith," it said. "Instead, a defendant is guilty of torture only if he
acts with the express purpose of inflicting severe pain or suffering on
a person within his control."
When some administration memorandums about coercive treatment or torture
were disclosed, the White House said they were only advisory.
Last month, military guards, intelligence agents and others described in
interviews with The Times a range of procedures that they said were
highly abusive occurring over a long period, as well as rewards for
prisoners who cooperated with interrogators. The people who worked at
Camp Delta, the main prison facility, said that one regular procedure
was making uncooperative prisoners strip to their underwear, having them
sit in a chair while shackled hand and foot to a bolt in the floor, and
forcing them to endure strobe lights and loud rock and rap music played
through two close loudspeakers, while the air-conditioning was turned up
to maximum levels.
Some accounts of techniques at Guantánamo have been easy to dismiss
because they seemed so implausible. The most striking of the
accusations, which have come mainly from a group of detainees released
to their native Britain, has been that the military used prostitutes who
made coarse comments and come-ons to taunt some prisoners who are
But the Red Cross report hints strongly at an explanation of some of
those accusations by stating that there were frequent complaints by
prisoners in 2003 that some of the female interrogators baited their
subjects with sexual overtures.
Gen. Geoffrey Miller, who commanded the detention and intelligence
operation at Guantánamo until April, when he took over prison operations
in Iraq, said in an interview early this year about general
interrogation procedures that the female interrogators had proved to be
among the most effective. General Miller's observation matches common
wisdom among experienced intelligence officers that women may be
effective as interrogators when seen by their subjects as mothers or
sisters. Sexual taunting does not, however, comport with what is often
referred to as the "mother-sister syndrome."
But the Red Cross report said that complaints about the practice of
sexual taunting stopped in the last year. Guantánamo officials have
acknowledged that they have improved their techniques and that some
earlier methods they tried proved to be ineffective, raising the
possibility that the sexual taunting was an experiment that was