July 2004: Red Cross Report, U.S. Military abuse at Guantanamo “tantamount to torture”

After a month long inspection of Guantanamo Bay prison, the International Committee of the Red Cross issued a report charging that American military intentionally used psychological and sometimes physical coercion “tantamount to torture” on prisoners. The confidential report was distributed in July to lawyers at the White House, Pentagon and State Department and to the commander of the detention facility at Guantanamo, Gen. Jay W. Hood. But the U.S. government rejected the charges.

The New York Times obtained a detailed memorandum, based on the report, that lists its major findings. (Neil A. Lewis Red Cross Finds Detainee Abuse In Guantnamo, The New York Times, Nov. 30, 2004)

The document details gross violations of numerous articles of the Geneva Conventions and paints a picture of widespread and systemic abuse of prisoners—particularly those “persons arrested in connection with suspected security offences or deemed to have an ‘intelligence’ value.”

It was the first time that the Red Cross, which has been conducting visits to Guantanamo since Jan. 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 humanitarian Red Cross team included experienced medical personnel who asserted that some doctors and other medical workers at Guantanamo were participating in planning for interrogations, in what the report called ”a flagrant violation of medical ethics.” The leaked report provided the public with the first inkling that medical and other healthcare professionals were involved in torture.

“investigators found a system devised to break the will of the prisoners at Guantanamo, 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 previous visits.

”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.”

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 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.

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 Red Cross report indicated that prisoners learned from their interrogators that their medical histories were known to them. Such a breach of medical privacy coupled with the collusion of medical personnel with a system of coercion led detainees to distrust the doctors.

The Pentagon denied the accusations in a statement saying,

“The United States does not permit, tolerate or condone torture under any circumstances…The allegation that detainee medical files were used to harm detainees is false. The United States operates a safe, humane and professional detention operation at Guantánamo that is providing valuable information in the war on terrorism.”

“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. In all alleged cases of abuse at Guantánamo, the department of defense has examined the allegations and has not found credible instances of detainee abuse.”

Sex came up in detainee complaints that on their face seemed “implausible.” But not so implausible given the CIA’s lurid record of sexual exploitation such as contracting prostitutes to slip LSD into unsuspecting Johns’ drinks in its “Midnight Crisis” operation, an off-shoot of its MK-ULTRA mind control fiasco. (Read Pt. 8 CIA Mind Control Experiments <link>)

The most striking of the “implausible” 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 Muslims.

But the Red Cross report said that complaints about the practice of sexual taunting stopped in the last year. Guantanamo 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 abandoned.

The Times reported that the Red Cross inspection team’s conclusions, 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.

Scott Horton, an attorney who heads the human rights committee of the Bar Association of New York City stated that the issue of medical ethics violations at Guantanamo produced “a tremendous controversy in the [ICRC] committee. “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.”

And veteran Red Cross officials frequently complained to the Pentagon and other arms of the American government that government officials cite the Red Cross visits to suggest that there is no abuse at Guantánamo. In fact, most statements from the Pentagon in response to queries about mistreatment at Guantánamo do, in fact, include mention of the Red Cross visits.

General Hood, the commander of the Guantanamo detention and interrogation facility, cited the committee’s visits in response to questions about treatment of detainees, suggesting that Guantanamo received a clean bill of health from the Red Cross Committee.

“We take everything the Red Cross gives us and study it very carefully to look for ways to do our job better. I’m satisfied that the detainees here have not been abused, they’ve not been mistreated, they’ve not been tortured in any way.”