WASHINGTON, D.C. — The International Committee of the Red Cross has charged in confidential reports to the U.S. government that the U.S. military has intentionally used psychological and sometimes physical coercion “tantamount to torture” on prisoners at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.
The finding that the handling of prisoners detained and interrogated at Guantanamo allegedly amounted to torture came after a visit by a Red Cross inspection team that spent most of June there.
The team, which included experienced medical personnel, also asserted that some doctors and other medical workers at Guantanamo were participating in planning for interrogations, in what the report called “a flagrant violation of medical ethics.”
The report alleges that doctors and medical personnel conveyed information about prisoners’ mental health and vulnerabilities to their military interrogators.
That information, according to the report, was usually transmitted through a group called the Behavioral Science Consultation Team, or BSCT. That team, known informally as Biscuit, is composed of psychologists and psychological workers who advise the interrogators.
The U.S. government, which received the report in July, sharply rejected its charges, administration and military officials said.
The report was distributed to lawyers at the White House, Pentagon and State Department and to the commander of the detention facility at Guantanamo, Gen. Jay Hood.
The New York Times recently obtained a memorandum, based on the report, that quotes from it in detail and lists its major findings. It was the first time that the Red Cross, which has been conducting visits to Guantanamo since January 2002, asserted that the treatment of detainees, both physical and psychological, amounted to torture.
The report of the June visit said investigators had found a system devised to break the will of the prisoners at Guantanamo, 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 what the Red Cross learned about on previous visits.
The report also said that in addition to exposure to loud and persistent noise and music and to prolonged cold, detainees were subjected to “some beatings.” The report did not say how many of the detainees were subjected to such treatment.
Asked about the accusations in the report, a Pentagon spokesman provided a statement saying, “The United States operates a safe, humane and professional detention operation at Guantanamo that is providing valuable information in the war on terrorism.”
The conclusions by the inspection team, especially the findings involving alleged complicity in mistreatment by medical professionals, have provoked a stormy debate within the Red Cross committee. Some officials have argued that it should make its concerns public or at least aggressively confront the United States.
The report from the June visit said that the Red Cross team found a far greater incidence of mental illness produced by stress than did U.S. medical authorities, much of it caused by prolonged solitary confinement. It said the medical files of detainees were “literally open” to interrogators.
Last month, military guards, intelligence agents and others described in interviews with the New York Times a range of procedures that they said were highly abusive occurring over a long period, as well as rewards for prisoners who cooperated with interrogators.
The people who worked at Camp Delta, the main prison facility, said one regular procedure was making uncooperative prisoners strip to their underwear, having them sit in a chair while shackled hand and foot to a bolt in the floor, and forcing them to endure strobe lights and loud rock and rap music played through two close loudspeakers, while the air-conditioning was turned up to maximum levels.
Some accounts of techniques at Guantanamo have been easy to dismiss because they seemed so implausible. The most striking of the accusations, which have come mainly from a group of detainees released to their native Britain, has been that the military used prostitutes who made coarse comments and come-ons to taunt some prisoners who are Muslims.
The Red Cross report said that complaints about the practice of sexual taunting stopped in the last year.
Guantanamo officials have acknowledged that they have improved their techniques and that some earlier methods they tried proved to be ineffective, raising the possibility that the sexual taunting was an experiment that was abandoned.
Red Cross officials are able to visit prisoners at Guantanamo under the kind of arrangement the committee has made with governments for decades. In exchange for exclusive access to the prison camp and meetings with detainees, committee representatives have agreed to keep their findings confidential. The findings are shared only with the government that is detaining people.
The report said the Biscuit team met regularly with the medical staff to discuss the medical situations of detainees. At other times, interrogators sometimes went directly to members of the medical staff to learn about detainees’ conditions, it said.
The report said that such “apparent integration of access to medical care within the system of coercion” meant that inmates were not cooperating with doctors. Inmates learn from their interrogators that they have knowledge of their medical histories and the result is that the prisoners no longer trust the doctors.
Asked for a response, the Pentagon issued a statement saying, “The allegation that detainee medical files were used to harm detainees is false.” The statement said the detainees were “enemy combatants who were fighting against U.S. and coalition forces.”
“It’s important to understand that when enemy combatants were first detained on the battlefield, they did not have any medical records in their possession,” the statement continued. “The detainees had a wide range of pre-existing health issues including battlefield injuries.”
The International Committee of the Red Cross, which is based in Geneva and is separate from the American Red Cross, was founded in 1863 as an independent, neutral organization intended to provide assistance for victims of war.