Friday, March 25, 2011

The International Red Cross and Gitmo

Though Ghosts of Abu Ghraib focused primarily on the torture practices within the Abu Ghraib prison, it also briefly mentioned the similar techniques in use at the Guantanamo Bay Military Prison. The film stated that the US government did not allow observers in Gitmo, which struck me as odd, for I thought that observers from the International Committee for the Red Cross (ICRC) had been allowed in (in fact, I had thought it was leaked parts of their report that had originally caused the Gitmo scandal).

I did some digging and discovered on the ICRC webpage that observers have been working at Gitmo since 2002. But they refuse to speak about the conditions they have observed, preferring instead to work directly with U.S. officials to solve any problems (though the ICRC admits there are problems).

This is policy for the ICRC. As the official protector of the Geneva Conventions they observe prison conditions worldwide, but they refuse to report their findings to the world at large, for reasons of neutrality. They contend that by maintaining absolute neutrality on political issues, they are ensured continued prison visits. And were they ever to break that policy, their access would be denied.

I've always found this part of ICRC policy a little problematic. I understand the argument: we can do more for prisoners if we have continued access to them. But couldn't the world do more to stop torture if we knew about it? Wouldn't pressure from America's allies, from other international organizations, from her own citizens be more likely to end torture than pressure from the ICRC?

What do you think? Is this policy of absolute neutrality a good one? Is there a better policy?


  1. I think the mere fact that the International Red Cross is being pressured by the United States to keep quiet about this, then we must assume that the horrific and cruel nature is so terrible it would certainly have to be either covered up and that the Red Cross sees there work as something that helps these men keep their dignity.
    There was an assault on the city of Fallujah, where the Marines stormed in with such violent force that the red cross was only let in 2 or 3 days after the operation. Think about how the army had to clean that place up, in terms of dead bodies, so I bet it is less bad than a straight up slaughter of Iraqi citizens, but nearly certainly, the Military of the US is violates torture agreements and the Geneva convention.

  2. It seems like the Red Cross could only really be called the ‘protector’ of the Geneva Conventions if they had the political power to actually protect anyone. With the minimal transparency, I guess it’s hard to say for sure whether or not the Red Cross is having a substantial impact on prisons worldwide. I agree that they need to maintain neutrality, but they should be able to put some kind of political pressure on governments where prisons are not up to international standards. I agree with Schwartz in that if the US is telling the Red Cross to be quiet, whatever is going on in Gitmo can’t be good.


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