Thursday, April 9, 2009

Red Cross report details torture of detainees

Torture of detainees at Guantanamo Bay has been systematic, extensive and a matter of deliberate policy, says a report originally prepared in 2007 by the International Committee of the Red Cross. Obtained by journalist Mark Danner, the report, which detailed the complicity of medical personnel in the mistreatment of detainees, has been posted online (PDF) by the New York Review of Books.

Techniques practiced at Guantanamo and elsewhere on the 14 detainees examined in the 41-page report include suffocation by water, prolonged standing with arms chained above their heads, beatings, confinement in a box, sleep deprivation and other tactics that involve both physical and psychological abuse. While written in somewhat technical terms, the report emphasizes that the detainees' treatment "amounted to torture and/or cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment."

While the abuse described in the report is brutal and disturbing, among the more troubling aspects in the Red Cross account is the role of medical personnel, including "physicians, psychiatrists, psychologists, nurses and other para-health staff" in the application of torture.

For certain methods, notably suffocation by water, the health personnel were allegedly directly participating in the infliction of the ill-treatment. In one case, it was alleged that health personnel actively monitored a detainees' oxygen saturation using what, from the description of the detainee of a device placed over the finger, appeared to be a pulse oxymeter. ...

Other detainees who were shacked in a stress stanfding position for prolonged periods in their cells were monitored by health personnel who in some instances recommended stopping the method of ill-treatment, or recommended its continuation, but with adjustments.

The Red Cross report emphasizes that such participation in torture by medical personnel violates accepted standards of medical ethics.

Internationally recognized legal standards were also violated at Guantanamo, not just by the torture, which is illegal under international law, but also by the anonymous and unofficial detention of the men held by the CIA. The report points out that international humanitarian law requires that persons deprived of their liberty be registered, held in an officially recognized place of detention, and be permitted visits by the Red Cross so their condition can be monitored and relayed to their next of kin. "In the ICRC's view, the fourteen were placed outside the protection of the law during the time they spent in CIA custody."

The Red Cross report concludes by, in part, voicing concern about the fate of other detainees held by the CIA who remain unaccounted for.

President Barack Obama has promised to end the mistreatment of detainees approved by the Bush administration, eventually close the Guantanamo Bay facility, and to finally give inmates at the facility trials to determine their guilt or innocence. The current administration is also torn over the degree to which it will reveal its predecessor's formal role in the torture of detainees.

But the Obama administration also plans to continue the policy of holding alleged terror suspects indefinitely, without charges.



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