June 2, 2014

U.S. kept Red Cross in the dark about Guantánamo prisoner release

The International Committee of the Red Cross usually is invited to interview detainees who are about to leave Guantánamo — not this time.

Add the International Committee of the Red Cross to the list of those kept in the dark before Saturday’s Guantánamo prisoner exchange.

The Geneva-based organization that advocates for prisoner rights around the globe said the Pentagon, unusually, did not invite delegates to the remote base in advance to interview the five Afghans on their willingness to leave, or conduct medical checkups.

“The fact that the ICRC was not notified in advance of the detainees’ transfer was unusual, and we are following up with the authorities,” Red Cross spokeswoman Anna Nelson told the Miami Herald on Monday, in reply to a query.

The Obama administration similarly withheld its statutory 30-day notice from members of Congress when it released five Taliban detainees who’d been in custody for more than a decade in exchange for Army Sgt. Bowe Bergdahal of Idaho. Instead, the Pentagon notified Congress on Saturday as the exchange was under way.

Also Monday, the prison camps clamped a lid of secrecy on what went on at the detention center over the weekend.

Spokesmen refused to say whether the remaining 149 captives knew about the deal, were able to see reports on the release on TV news broadcasts or whether there had been disruptions or celebrations — information previous spokesmen willingly disclosed.

“Everyone is fine down here,” said Navy Cmdr John Filostrat, senior spokesman for the detention center of roughly 2,200 guards and civilian staff.

The Red Cross has visited the detention center more than 100 times since soon after the Bush administration set it up in January 2002. They consult with medical staff and prison camp commanders and advocate for improvement; interview and photograph captives; deliver mail, books and periodicals, and arrange video calls for some detainees.

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