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International Concern Mounts Over US Prisoners in Cuba
Published on Tuesday, January 22, 2002 by Agence France-Presse
International Concern Mounts Over US Prisoners in Cuba
 
Concern mounted over the condition of suspected al-Qaeda and Taliban members held prisoner at the US naval base in Cuba, where the Americans faced new appeals to respect international conventions.

France and Germany urged Washington to ensure the 158 prisoners transferred from Afghanistan to Guantanamo Bay were treated lawfully, and the European Union insisted their rights be protected.

Iraqi President Saddam Hussein, whose rights record has been criticized by the United States, accused the Americans of failing to heed their own strictures.

US Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld on Tuesday called allegations of mistreatment "just plain false" and the result of "uninformed, misinformed or poorly informed" media reports.

Washington has come under persistent pressure for classifying the detainees as "illegal combatants" rather than prisoners of war entitled to Geneva Convention rights.

More questions were raised after publication of photographs of a group of kneeling, handcuffed prisoners wearing dark goggles, earmuffs, mittens and bright orange jumpsuits.

German Foreign Minister Joschka Fischer said his government was talking to Washington on the need to deal with the detainees as prisoners of war.

"In the fight against international terrorism, we also defend our basic values," Fischer said in a statement. "They apply whoever the person may be. They protect the life and dignity of men."

French foreign ministry spokesman Bernard Valero, speaking as a French delegation prepared to travel to Cuba this week, echoed the same theme.

EU foreign policy chief Javier Solana said the fact that Washington has linked the prisoners to the September 11 terror attacks in the United States should make no difference.

Spanish Foreign Minister Josep Pique, whose country holds the rotating EU presidency, said the prisoners' rights should be respected but added he did not think it necessary for the EU to take an official position.

Iraqi newspapers quoted Saddam taking a swipe at the Americans, who have threatened to take their war on terrorism to Baghdad.

"They used human rights and the rights of prisoners for propaganda purposes against other countries," he said. "But when their turn came to uphold those rights, they openly violated them."

Danish Foreign Minister Per Stig Moeller said Tuesday a Danish national was among the prisoners, and that Copenhagen would seek more information on him from the US authorities and provide him with "all necessary assistance."

Three Britons, 17 Yemenis and a Swede were previously spotted among the prisoners taken during the US-led campaign in Afghanistan to topple the Taliban regime and root out Osama bin Laden's al-Qaeda.

Britain, the staunchest US ally, insisted Monday concern over the detention of the prisoners was "premature" and said it was satisfied they were being treated properly.

The International Committee of the Red Cross has sent a delegation to Guantanamo and London-based Amnesty International said Tuesday it had asked the Pentagon for permission to do the same.

Amnesty also questioned the impartiality of the British officials who attested to the good treatment accorded the three Britons held in Guantanamo.

Copyright © 2002 AFP

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