The Red Cross has been visiting Guantánamo Bay to inspect conditions and to minister to certain needs of the prisoners held there. They have bought this rare access with their silence — by policy they do not comment publicly about what they see on the other side of the barbed wire, and in return they are allowed to be the only group independent of the U.S. government that is given any substantial access to the prison and the prisoners.
This puts the Red Cross in a delicate position. The Dubya Squad frequently responds to criticism about conditions at Guantánamo by noting that the Red Cross is allowed to visit — the implication being that the Red Cross would blow the whistle if Gitmo were really a gulag or an Abu Ghraib. The Red Cross, meanwhile, is under this gag order, which prevents it from speaking out even as it is being used as a fig leaf in this way.
In fact, the Red Cross has criticized conditions at Gitmo in the past, but it limits its public criticism to policies that are already public knowledge, like the lack of due process. The Red Cross’s position on what it has observed of the conditions of detention is not for us to know.
, though, some White House memos summarizing the Red Cross’s concerns were leaked, giving us some idea of what the Red Cross is telling the folks in charge:
The International Committee of the Red Cross has charged in confidential reports to the United States government that the American military has intentionally used psychological and sometimes physical coercion “tantamount to torture” on prisoners at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba.…
The report of the June visit said investigators had found a system devised to break the will of the prisoners at Guantánamo, who now number about 550, and make them wholly dependent on their interrogators through “humiliating acts, solitary confinement, temperature extremes, use of forced positions.” Investigators said that the methods used were increasingly “more refined and repressive” than learned about on previous visits.
But I think we can expect the Red Cross reports to continue to get more alarmed and indignant and ignored:
There has to be something in how he won, in how the election was fought, that gave this Administration the distinct impression that it had been handed a “get out of the Geneva Conventions free” card. That’s because the Administration was handed precisely such a gift — by John Kerry.
In the name of “electability,” the Kerry campaign gave Bush without ever facing serious questions about violations of international law. Fearing he would be seen as soft on terror and disloyal to US troops, Kerry stayed scandalously silent about Abu Ghraib and Guantánamo Bay. When it became clear that fury would rain down on Falluja as soon as the polls closed, Kerry never spoke out against the plan, or against the illegal bombings of civilian areas that took place throughout the campaign. Even after The Lancet published its landmark study estimating that 100,000 Iraqis had died as a result of the invasion and occupation, Kerry repeated his outrageous (and frankly racist) claim that Americans “have borne 90 percent of the casualties in Iraq.” His unmistakable message: Iraqi deaths don’t count. By buying the highly questionable logic that Americans are incapable of caring about anyone’s lives but their own, the Kerry campaign and its supporters became complicit in the dehumanization of Iraqis, reinforcing the idea that some lives are insufficiently important to risk losing votes over. And it is this morally bankrupt logic, more than the election of any single candidate, that allows these crimes to continue unchecked.
The real-world result of all the “strategic” thinking is the worst of both worlds: It didn’t get Kerry elected and it sent a clear message to the people who were elected that they will pay no political price for committing war crimes. And this is Kerry’s true gift to Bush: not just the presidency, but impunity.
Yet another way in which I’m hopelessly out-of-touch with contemporary American values, I guess. I still sometimes wake up in the morning thinking I’m in a country where the alarms will go off and the newspapers will switch to their big-font headlines if the Red Cross reports that we’re torturing prisoners by deliberate policy. Nope: ho hum.