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Powell Told U.S. Tortured Detainees, But He Failed to Act

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Monday, 01 June 2009 18:12

The International Committee of the Red Cross began an investigation of U.S. war crimes in Iraq from the first days of the invasion, interviewing Iraqi captives from March to November 2003.

On Jan. 15, 2004, ICRC president Jakob Kellenberger expressed his concern to Secretary of State Colin Powell about the Bush administration's attitude regarding international law.

According to an ICRC Jan. 16, 2004 news release, which summarized Kellenberger's meeting with Powell, "the ICRC is increasingly concerned about the fate of an unknown number of people captured as part of the so-called global war on terror and held in undisclosed locations."

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Kellenberger, according to minutes of the meeting, "raised ICRC concerns over detention issues in Guantanamo Bay, Afghanistan and Iraq."

"Mr. Kellenberger echoed previous official requests from the ICRC for information on these detainees and for eventual access to them, as an important humanitarian priority and as a logical continuation of the organization's current detention work in Guantanamo and Afghanistan."

Kellenberger's meeting with Powell also centered on an op-ed by then-State Department legal adviser William Taft IV in the Financial Times four days earlier.

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In that op-ed, Taft wrote that there was no law that required the U.S. to afford due process to foreigners captured in the "war on terror."

"American treatment of detainees held at Guantanamo Bay in Cuba is fully consistent with international law and with centuries-old norms for treating individuals captured in wartime," Taft wrote. "We are engaged in a war."

It's unclear exactly what Kellenberger cited in Taft's column, because the minutes of the meeting were heavily redacted. But the conversation segued into Powell asking Kellenberger "where in addition to Afghanistan, did ICRC have problems with notification and access to detainees?"

Powell is quoted as saying "we are confident of our legal position, (referring to legal adviser Taft's op-ed), but we also know the world is watching us."

Notes of the meeting state that Powell "indicated that he would have to talk to his colleagues [including Taft] on ICRC's issue of access to detainees in Afghanistan and elsewhere."

The next month, February 2004, the ICRC gave Bush administration officials a confidential report which found that U.S. occupation forces in Iraq often arrested Iraqis without good reason and subjected them to abuse and humiliation that sometimes was "tantamount to torture" in violation of the Geneva Conventions.

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Some excessive violence, including the use of live ammunition against detainees, had led to seven deaths, the ICRC report said.

"According to the allegations collected by the ICRC, ill-treatment during interrogation was not systematic, except with regard to persons arrested in connection with suspected security offences or deemed to have an "intelligence value," the report said.

"In these cases, persons deprived of their liberty under supervision of the Military Intelligence were at high risk of being subjected to a variety of harsh treatments ranging from insults, threats and humiliations to both physical and psychological coercion, which in some cases was tantamount to torture, in order to force cooperation with their interrogators."

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Jason Leopold is Deputy Managing Editor of Truthout.org and the founding editor of the online investigative news magazine The Public Record, http://www.pubrecord.org. He is the author of the National Bestseller, "News Junkie," a memoir. Visit (more...)

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