Red Cross: Gitmo ‘tensions and anguish’ related to the lack of ‘clear legal framework’
RT:Two of the Red Cross delegates have now reached
the Guantanamo prison. What have they seen?
Simon Schorno: We don’t really comment to the public on what we see during our visits. But our two delegates arrived on Monday. The idea was to get a little bit in advance of our regularly planned visit that starts next Monday and to get a better sense of the current tensions and the hunger-strike, to speak with the detainees directly – of course, we are involved – and also with the authorities to get their perspective of what is going on. And that is what we are doing right now and will be doing for the next two weeks.
RT:Why did you decide to send the delegates a week earlier than planned?
SS: We’ve been following the current tensions and the hunger-strike since our last visit which ended at the end of February. And we’ve been in a very close communication with the camp authorities since. Being up-to-date on what’s going on is very important for us, to be present there and to speak with the detainees in person – again, to get their perspective. It’s how we work and for us it’s really essential to be in the facility and to really get a sense of what’s going on.
RT:We’ve been reporting on how desperate the conditions have been getting in the last two weeks. Why did not you send delegates from the Red Cross before?
SS: We visit the facility very regularly – every six weeks we have our two-week visit there. We were there last week of February. We have been visiting the facility since 2002. So far as visiting Guantanamo is something that we do very, very regularly. We have a full program dedicated to those visits, to the interaction on those issues with the US government. And that is something we do daily here in Washington and down in Guantanamo. For us, it is part of our job and again seeing detainees this week is our response, we have done it in the past with the issues at the facility and we continue to do that.
RT:You can’t tell us what the delegates are seeing at the moment, but you can tell us what you saw in the past. What are the conditions? Are you happy with the way detainees are treated?
SS: In fact, we don’t comment publicly on conditions of detention or treatment of detainees. Those are issues that we raise directly with the authorities concerned – American authorities in this case. What I can tell you is that from our observations those tensions and this anguish that the detainees are experiencing are clearly related to the lack of a clear legal framework in Guantanamo. This has now been having a real impact for detainees for some time – on their mental health, on their emotional health. For us the issue beyond what we are seeing right now in Guantanamo are these issues that you reported on, that lawyers are talking about- the issue of a legal framework that regiments the detention at Guantanamo and this is the issue that the administration must address.
RT:So clearly you are concerned about the mental health of these detainees. Is there something you can challenge the authorities with? Does the Red Cross have much influence over this?
SS: The discussions, the reporting, the observations we share with the authorities, we believe have an impact. It is a continuing thing. As I said, we have been visiting the facility since 2002, so it is a very solid relationship in terms of having our opinion and observations taken into account. There are bigger questions that touch on the political sphere, legal sphere and there the administration with Congress must act. This is beyond really what ICRC can do. What we can do is to assure that certain international standards are upheld and the humanitarian perspective is taking into account.
RT: How significant is it now that this story becomes more and more public and well known?
SS: The fact that the President Obama announced that Guantanamo will be closed back in 2010 - there hasn’t been really any action with Guantanamo - is slowly disappearing from the landscape here, the political landscape and certainly, until a few days ago, the media landscape. All of this is playing to what is going on now and for us the bottom line, what we’re seeing from our perspective, what we see is the increasing level of desperation.
RT:Will the Red Cross want to see this detention center closed down?
SS: No, we do not have an opinion on the closure of Guantanamo. What we want to see is a clear legal framework that regiments the detention in Guantanamo.