Red Cross Suspects U.S. Prisoner Stash

Washington TimesRed Cross suspects U.S. prisoner stash

The international Red Cross said yesterday it suspects the United States is hiding detainees in lockups across the globe, though the agency has been granted access to thousands of prisoners in Iraq and elsewhere. Terror suspects reported by the FBI as captured have never turned up in detention centers, and the United States has failed to reply to agency demands for a list of everyone it’s holding, Antonella Notari, spokeswoman for the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) said in an interview with the Associated Press. “These people are, as far as we can tell, detained in locations that are undisclosed not only to us but also to the rest of the world,” Mrs. Notari said.

White House spokesman Scott McClellan said yesterday he was “looking further into” the Red Cross concerns and added: “We do work closely with the Red Cross on all detainee issues.” He did not concede a problem exists. At the Pentagon, spokesman Bryan Whitman said, “The International Committee of the Red Cross has access to all Defense Department detention operations.” However, in his report into claims of abuse at Baghdad’s Abu Ghraib prison, U.S. Army Maj. Gen. Antonio M. Taguba found that military police there had “routinely held persons brought to them by other government agencies without accounting for them, knowing their identities, or even the reason for their detention.” On at least one occasion, they moved these “ghost detainees” around the prison to hide them from a visiting Red Cross delegation, he said in the report. He described the actions as “deceptive, contrary to Army Doctrine, and in violation of international law.” Under the Geneva Conventions, the United States is obliged to give the neutral, Swiss-run ICRC access to prisoners of war and other detainees to check on their conditions and allow them to send messages to their families.

The United States says it is cooperating with the agency, and has allowed Red Cross delegates access to thousands of prisoners in Afghanistan, at the U.S. naval base at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, and in Iraq, where agency delegates have even visited Saddam Hussein. It is not clear whether terror suspects would be covered by the Geneva Conventions, but Mrs. Notari said that “for humanitarian reasons” the Red Cross should be told about all detainees. ICRC President Jakob Kellenberger made the request in January on a visit to Washington during which he met with Secretary of State Colin L. Powell, Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz and National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice. “So far we haven’t had a satisfactory reply,” Mrs. Notari said.

I’m not sure what precedent there would be for giving the Red Cross access to detained terrorists. And, certainly, there are more pressing tasks at hand than compiling lists for the Red Cross, which seems oblivious to the fact that there’s a war on and that the other side doesn’t play by the same rulebook. Still, after the Abu Ghraib mess, it would be best to cooperate as much as possible.

FILED UNDER: Afghanistan War, Iraq War, Terrorism, , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,
James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm veteran. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.


  1. Mark says:

    Uh, folks I think we’re supposed to be on the “good” side of the war on terror. That means we should not be hiding people from the scrutiny of humanitarians like Red Cross, which would be a form of abduction like, well, like what terrorists do, right?

  2. legion says:

    The other reason is that, as best I can recall, only Gitmo detainees are not being treated as POWs. I can’t pull specific pointers off the cuff, but I distinctly remember administration announcements that _all_ GOWT detainees outside Gitmo were going to be treated with all the rights of regular POWs. And that explicitly authorizes the Red Cross to contact them. If fact, I believe it puts the onus on the detaining power to bring the Red Cross in to the prisoners.

    So the short answer is: Why? Because we signed a treaty promising to. And because we expect other countries to do the same if they capture any of our people.

  3. Kathy K says:

    What was said was that the Geneva convention applied to all prisoners held in Iraq. Not all prisoners except those at Gitmo. (And we do allow the Red Cross into Gitmo, btw.)