A Red Cross delegation will travel next week to Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, to meet with Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, the alleged mastermind of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, and 13 other reputed terrorists recently transferred to U.S. military custody after years of imprisonment in secret CIA jails.
The 12-member delegation from the International Committee of the Red Cross would be the first people not affiliated with the detentions and questioning to meet with the terrorist suspects since their arrests as long as five years ago. Afterwards, the prisoners will be allowed to fill out Red Cross message forms that will be passed to their families in what would be their first communications since their captures.
Simon Schorno, the ICRC spokesman in Washington, D.C., said Tuesday that the delegation would include a doctor, a lawyer and several translators. He said the delegation would begin arriving at Guantanamo Bay on Monday and would stay for about two weeks.
Mohammed and the 13 other suspects, including alleged Sept. 11 conspirator Ramzi Binalshibh, had been held secretly by the CIA until two weeks ago, when President Bush for the first time publicly acknowledged that the CIA had operated secret prisons and had used harsh interrogation tactics on prisoners held in them. Bush said the program was being suspended in response to a Supreme Court decision and that its remaining prisoners were being transferred to U.S. military custody.
Schorno said that the Red Cross visit to Guantanamo had been scheduled before Bush's announcement, but that the delegation would make a point of asking to see Mohammed and the others next week. The prisoners can refuse to meet with the delegates.
"We have not gone to the island since their arrival, so they are not registered with us until now," Schorno said. "We want to speak in private with any detainee of our choosing, including the 14 that were recently transferred."
The International Red Cross has long been responsible under the Geneva Conventions for verifying that prisoners of war are treated humanely and don't disappear while in custody, but U.S. officials insisted that the Geneva Conventions didn't apply to suspected terrorists. That view was rejected by the U.S. Supreme Court in June.
The International Red Cross wouldn't identify the head of the delegation by name nor specify the delegates' nationalities. But Schorno said the delegation leader had visited Guantanamo before, speaking with senior U.S. military officers and meeting with prisoners.
How CIA interrogators treated the new prisoners during their detentions will certainly come up during any meetings with the Red Cross, but it's unlikely that information will be made public. Under international rules, Red Cross officials report the findings of their visits only to the country holding the prisoners.
In announcing the transfer of the prisoners to Guantanamo on Sept. 6, Bush said that some had been questioned using an "alternative set of procedures" designed to induce them to testify. Those procedures are said to have included loud music, sleep deprivation and exposure to extreme temperatures recently prohibited to military interrogators.
Bush said the questioning techniques had been necessary to gain valuable information, and he has sought congressional approval to continue using them.
Bush also has sought congressional approval to establish military tribunals that would offer fewer protections to defendants than traditional U.S. military justice would. That proposal has been met with stiff opposition from key Republican senators, including Sen. John McCain of Arizona, who was tortured as a prisoner of war in North Vietnam.
The last Red Cross visit to Guantanamo straddled the end of June and beginning of July, following the simultaneous suicides by hanging of two Saudis and a Yemeni, the first prisoners to die during their captivity there.
(c) 2006, McClatchy-Tribune Information Services.
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