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Red Cross says it sought better conditions at Iraqi prisons

Associated Press, USA
May 6, 2004
Alexander G. Higgins, Associated Press Writer
www.theworldlink.com

ReligionNewsBlog.com • Friday May 7, 2004

GENEVA – The international Red Cross said today it had repeatedly asked U.S. authorities to take action over alleged prisoner abuse at Iraq’s Abu Ghraib prison before recent revelations about the way detainees were treated.

America vs. Human Rights

“The United States has long regarded itself as a beacon of human rights, as evidenced by an enlightened constitution, judicial independence, and a civil society grounded in strong traditions of free speech and press freedom. But the reality is more complex; for decades, civil rights and civil liberties groups have exposed constitutional violations and challenged abusive policies and practices. In recent years, as well, international human rights monitors have documented serious gaps in U.S. protections of the human rights of vulnerable groups. Both federal and state governments have nonetheless resisted applying to the U.S. the standards that, rightly, the U.S. applies elsewhere.”
Human Rights Watch

“We were aware of what was going on, and based on our findings we have repeatedly requested the U.S. authorities to take corrective action,” said Nada Doumani, spokeswoman for the International Committee of the Red Cross, speaking from Amman, Jordan.

Doumani said the United States “took very seriously all our recommendations,” though she didn’t specify what the recommendations were or when they were made. It also wasn’t clear if the Red Cross findings specifically related to the latest allegations of abuse at Abu Ghraib.

The ICRC, which visits prisoners held by coalition authorities in Iraq, had previously declined to comment publicly on conditions at the prison.

“We’ve been visiting Abu Ghraib prison since already from last year,” Doumani told The Associated Press. “We are of course aware of the situation since we talk with the detainees privately.

“We get testimony from them. We visit all the premises in this place. We crosscheck information we receive from different detainees. Definitely we were aware of what was going on in Abu Ghraib.”

Doumani said the visits have been taking place every five or six weeks since last year. The most recent visit was March 20, she said.

The scandal over treatment of prisoners became widely known after CBS television broadcast pictures of smiling American guards with Iraqi prisoners in humiliating positions last week. That unleashed a huge international outcry.

The ICRC is designated by the Geneva Conventions on warfare to visit prisoners of war and other people detained by an occupying power. It traditionally discusses its observations only with the detaining authority, but has been under pressure to say whether it had specifically warned the United States about prisoner abuse before the photographs came to light.

Doumani didn’t say specifically when it gave its first warnings, but that it was over a period of months.

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