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Friday, 18 January, 2002, 19:28 GMT
Red Cross inspects US prison
Red Cross team led by Urs Boegli (c-front) arrive at Guantanamo naval base
Red Cross officials are expected to stay several days
International Red Cross officials have begun the task of evaluating conditions at the US military camp in Cuba, where al-Qaeda and Taleban prisoners are being held.



  • 80 prisoners detained in cages like these
  • Buckets for toilets
  • Thin foam mattresses
  • Beards shaved

    Detailed plan of cells and conditions

  • In this first independent inspection, expected to last a week, Red Cross officials are meeting the prisoners in private to assess whether they are being treated in accordance with the Geneva Conventions on prisoners of war.

    The captives are also being given the opportunity to communicate with their families by means of messages relayed by the Red Cross.

    But the four envoys, who include a doctor and a translator, will not make their findings public. Instead, reports will be presented directly to the US authorities.

    "Confidentiality will be respected," said Red Cross spokesman Darcy Christen. "As long as this confidentiality allows us to get results in the humanitarian sphere, we will keep to it."

    Human rights

    The US, which has said it is happy for the Red Cross to visit, insists the 110 captives are not PoWs, but illegal combatants, and so beyond the scope of the conventions.

    The Red Cross however continues to dispute this stance. Mr Christen told a news conference that it was not possible to punish someone for being a combatant, and that in an international armed conflict anyone captured on the battlefield was presumed a prisoner of war.

    There have been several calls for the US to respect the prisoners' rights.

    A guard checks the security at the camp at Guantanamo
    The US insists camp conditions are humane
    UN Commissioner for Human Rights, Mary Robinson has also reminded Washington of its international obligations towards prisoners of war as specified in the Geneva Conventions.

    She said that, if there was a dispute on whether the captives were prisoners of war, a competent tribunal should be set up, in accordance with a provision in the conventions to decide their status.

    Human Rights Watch has described the detainees' temporary wire fence cells - which are partially open to the elements - as "a scandal".

    But, while stressing that conditions were humane, Camp commander Brigadier-General Lehnert also highlighted security concerns.

    "Several [prisoners] have publicly stated here their intent to kill an American before they leave Guantanamo Bay. We will not give them that satisfaction," he said.

    White House spokesman Ari Fleischer has said President Bush is satisfied with the prisoners' treatment.

    A separate team of British officials has also arrived at the camp to visit three detainees who claim British citizenship.

    The group is to help identify the prisoners, report on their welfare and to help the US with their inquiries.

     WATCH/LISTEN
     ON THIS STORY
    The BBC's Richard Lister at Camp X-Ray, Guantanamo
    "They want to speak to every single person here"
     VOTE RESULTS
    Are the Afghan prisoners being treated fairly?

    Yes
     61.11% 

    No
     38.88% 

    32204 Votes Cast

    Results are indicative and may not reflect public opinion


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    See also:

    17 Jan 02 | Americas
    ICRC: A tough mandate
    17 Jan 02 | UK Politics
    Church leaders enter Cuba row
    16 Jan 02 | Americas
    US Taleban suspect faces civil trial
    12 Jan 02 | South Asia
    Harsh conditions for Afghan prisoners
    04 Jan 02 | Americas
    Castro 'does not oppose' US prison
    28 Dec 01 | Americas
    Destination Guantanamo Bay
    14 Jan 02 | South Asia
    Eyewitness: Inside an al-Qaeda camp
    16 Jan 02 | UK Politics
    UK presses to see Cuba captives
    16 Jan 02 | Asia-Pacific
    Australia wants Taleban Aussie back
    18 Jan 02 | Americas
    US public unmoved by camp conditions
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