Mark Danner

Red Cross report says detainees at CIA ‘black sites’ were tortured

Author: Jonathan Adams


The International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) concluded in 2007 that US methods to extract information from prisoners at secret CIA jails as part of the “war on terror” amounted to torture, according to excerpts from a confidential report published on the website of the The New York Review of Books on Sunday.

With US President Barack Obama on record as backing the prosecution of officials involved in “clear instances of wrongdoing,” the report could fuel calls for such legal action.

Though allegations of the torture of terror suspects at CIA-run “black sites” have been widely detailed before, the Red Cross report has “an unusual claim to authenticity,” the article’s author, Mark Danner, wrote in an op-ed for The New York Times.

The article in the Times quoted the report’s conclusion:

The allegations of ill-treatment of the detainees indicate that, in many cases, the ill-treatment to which they were subjected while held in the CIA program, either singly or in combination, constituted torture. In addition, many other elements of the ill-treatment, either singly or in combination, constituted cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment.

The International Committee of the Red Cross interviewed detainees in late 2006 after they had been moved to the US detention center in Guantánamo Bay, Cuba. The report was not for public release, but for top CIA and other US government officials’ eyes only. It was given to them in February 2007 and labeled “confidential.”

The Review article ended by noting that many human rights advocates “urge investigations and prosecutions” of Bush officials who adopted the antiterror methods alleged in the Red Cross report.

President Obama, while declaring that “nobody’s above the law, and if there are clear instances of wrongdoing … people should be prosecuted,” has also expressed his strong preference for “looking forward” rather than “looking backwards.”

A book on the war on terror, published last year, mentioned the Red Cross report, but relied on “sources familiar with the report.” The New York Times last year quoted from the book, Jane Mayer’s “The Dark Side,” which said that “the Red Cross document ‘warned that the abuse constituted war crimes, placing the highest officials in the US government in jeopardy of being prosecuted.'”

The New York Review of Books did not say how it obtained a copy of the report.

According to The Washington Post, Red Cross policy prevented it from the making the report public.

At least five copies of the report were shared with the CIA and top White House officials in 2007 but barred from public release by ICRC guidelines intended to preserve the humanitarian group’s strict policy of neutrality in conflicts.

The Post added that the accounts that the 14 detainees gave to the Red Cross were “remarkably uniform” and included reports of “beatings, sleep deprivation, extreme temperatures. and, in some cases, waterboarding or simulating drowning.”

“Such maltreatment of detainees is expressly prohibited by the Geneva Conventions,” the Post wrote.

The Post reports that the CIA declined to comment on the Red Cross report, but quoted a “US official familiar with the report” as saying: “It is important to bear in mind that the report lays out claims made by the terrorists themselves.”

The Post also reported reaction from the Red Cross:

ICRC officials did not dispute the authenticity of the excerpts, but a spokesman expressed dismay over the leak of the material. “We regret information attributed to the ICRC report was made public in this manner,” spokesman Bernard Barrett said.

“The ICRC has been visiting the detainees formerly held by the CIA,” he added, “at Guantánamo since 2006. Any concerns or observations the ICRC had when visiting the detainees are part of a confidential dialogue.”

The Red Cross report has surfaced just as former US Vice President Dick Cheney is publicly criticizing President Obama’s terror policies for making the US less safe, reports The Christian Science Monitor.

The Red Cross report’s conclusion appears to directly contradict former US President George W. Bush’s claim that the methods used against terror suspects were permissible under international law, Reuters reports:

Former U.S. President George W. Bush acknowledged the use of coercive interrogation tactics on senior al-Qaeda captives detained by the CIA in the aftermath of the September 11, 2001, attacks. Bush certified in 2007 that the CIA’s interrogation program complied with the Geneva Conventions.

The anti-terrorism policies of the Bush administration drew worldwide condemnation as violations of human rights and international law.

As this Cox & Forkum political cartoon shows, however, some in the US ridiculed the idea of providing legal or humanitarian protection for terror suspects.

NPR interviewed Mr. Danner about his article on Sunday’s “All Things Considered” program. (Listen to the report here.)