The International Committee of the Red Cross is usually a pretty tight-lipped group. The Swiss-based humanitarian organization has been visiting captured combatants of international conflicts since 1915 in order to evaluate the sufficiency of their confinement. It has rarely made its criticisms public.
This silence was broken recently when a senior Red Cross official openly faulted the ongoing detention of more than 600 people by the U.S. government in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. Christophe Girod, who just completed an inspection of the internment camp, reiterated what has long been said about the Bush administration's Guantanamo detention practices: They violate international law by refusing to grant the prisoners any type of formal status or legal process to determine their fate. "One cannot keep these detainees in this pattern, this situation, indefinitely," Girod said.
Maybe pressure by this respected international body will have some effect, though it is doubtful. President Bush and Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld have proven themselves uninterested in the niceties of the Geneva Convention. They have been unmoved by the pleas of even allied countries to put some process in place that would allow the release of some prisoners and the formal charging of others. Since the camp opened more than 18 months ago, the administration has maintained that none of the prisoners, most of whom were picked up during the hostilities in Afghanistan, qualify for prisoner-of-war status. This, despite the dictates of the Geneva Convention that say such judgments should be made individually by a tribunal. As to when the detainees might be released, the administration has suggested it may hold the prisoners until the terrorist threat is extinguished. In other words, indefinitely.
The Red Cross is deeply concerned with the impact this uncertainty is having on the mental health of the detainees. In an August operational update, the group said there has been a "worrying deterioration in the psychological health of a large number (of detainees)." To date, 21 prisoners have made 32 suicide attempts, and a number are being treated for clinical depression.
The Red Cross went public because it has been frustrated by the intransigence of the administration over months of discussions. But the group seems to be shouting in the wind.