St. Petersburg Times
Online: Iraq

Focus on: Prisoners of War

©Associated Press
April 12, 2003

The International Committee of the Red Cross said Friday it does not know where the seven U.S. prisoners of war are being held or even who in Iraq is responsible for them.

The fall of Baghdad and the disappearance of Saddam Hussein’s government also means the Red Cross is unable to negotiate for access to the soldiers, said Red Cross spokesman Florian Westphal.

“At the moment we don’t know exactly who is holding them,” Westphal said. “The people we were talking to before can no longer be found. We don’t know where they are.”

The Red Cross has been trying since the soldiers were captured three weeks ago to get access to them, but was unsuccessful even when Hussein was in power.

The U.S. military says prisoners of war captured by the Iraqis during the Gulf War in 1991 were mistreated, including being beaten and threatened.

Analysts suggest that Iraqi officials may have denied the Red Cross access to the POWs, fearing coalition forces would be able to follow the delegates and launch another rescue raid.

So far, the Red Cross has visited and registered 3,851 Iraqis being held by coalition forces. The United States says it has 7,300 Iraqis, while the British are detaining another 6,500. A detention facility for up to 24,000 POWs is being built in the southern Iraqi city of Umm Qasr.

The United States says it is treating its prisoners according to the Geneva Conventions. They are receiving food and medical care, and officials are arranging for them to be issued prayer rugs and the Koran.

“In the morning they were given fruit, tea, some sundry items, bread. At night they get their rice. They get meat, vegetables and a pretty decent broth,” Army Col. John Della Jacono, deputy chief of staff of the coalition land forces, said in a telephone briefing from Umm Qasr, Iraq.


Spc. Edgar Hernandez, 21 Spc. Joseph Hudson, 23 Spc. Shoshana Johnson, 30 Pfc. Patrick Miller, 23 Sgt. James Riley, 31
Five U.S. POWs were shown on Iraqi television after their capture in an ambush March 23, but there has been no recent news of them.
Two other POWs were captured March 24 when their Apache helicopter went down: Army Chief Warrant Officer Ronald D. Young Jr., 26, at left Army Chief Warrant Officer David S. Williams, 30

In enemy hands
Some 13,800 Iraqi and seven American prisoners of war are in captivity. The obligation of Iraqi and coalition forces regarding POWs is documented in detail by the Geneva Convention, which states that a neutral agency such as the Red Cross has the right to visit prisoners to check on their well-being.
[AP, Timesart]


In essence, the convention requires that POWs are treated humanely, under conditions comparable to those afforded to troops of the detaining power.

Prisoners are only obliged to give name, rank, date of birth and identification number.

POWs should be grouped according to language and custom.

They must be supplied with food, clothing and medical attention free of charge.

When possible, they must be allowed to prepare their own food.

General stores in the camp must sell at local market prices. Profits are used to benefit inmates.

An infirmary for mental or contagious diseases has to be kept apart.

Prisoners are allowed to receive mail and send a minimum of two letters and four cards a month.

The convention also requires prisoners to be protected against violence and cruel treatment.


Violence against a prisoner, especially one escaping, is an extreme measure and must follow a warning.

Items impounded for security reasons must be returned at the end of internment. Prisoners are allowed personal possessions.

Regulations must be posted.

Prisoners in good health can be used for labor depending on their age, sex, rank and physical aptitude.

A trial has to guarantee impartiality along with a qualified counsel and an interpreter.

Collective punishment is prohibited.

There can be no disciplinary measures involving food.

SOURCES: Associated Press; International Committee of the Red Cross