38 Retired Military Leaders Call on Congress to End Secret Prisons
WASHINGTON - Thirty-eight retired generals and admirals today appealed to the
United States Senate to enact legislation ending the practice of
holding "ghost detainees" by requiring that the International Committee
of the Red Cross (ICRC) be notified of and given access to all
prisoners in the custody of the U.S. intelligence community, including
those held in secret prisons.
The retired military leaders, convened by Human Rights First, wrote
in support of a bipartisan amendment to the pending defense
authorization bill. The amendment (#5369), co-sponsored by Senators
Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI), Dianne Feinstein (D-CA), Chuck Hagel (R-NE)
and John D. Rockefeller IV (D-WV), would bring the intelligence
community in line with U.S. military practices regarding ICRC access to
detainees, effectively ending the current policy permitting the CIA to
hold "ghost prisoners."
The letter from retired generals and admirals underscores the
importance to the safety of American military personnel of upholding
the norm of ensuring Red Cross access to all prisoners held in
international armed conflict. It states: "When we violate this norm
ourselves, by holding prisoners in secret-‘off the books' - denying
that they are in our custody and refusing to permit the Red Cross
access to them to monitor their treatment, we dangerously undermine our
ability to demand that our enemies adhere to it, now and in future
wars." The full text of the letter, along with a list of signatories,
with biographic information, follows this release.
Under the Geneva Conventions, the ICRC has the responsibility of
visiting detention facilities around the world to ensure that prisoners
of war and other detainees are treated humanely as required by
international humanitarian law. The ICRC's findings regarding
conditions and treatment are confidential and are communicated only to
the detaining authority. In order to ensure humane treatment, many
countries - including the United States - have provided ICRC access to
their prisoners and prisons even outside the sphere of international
The bipartisan amendment reaffirms long-standing and binding U.S.
commitments - under the Geneva Conventions, the International Covenant
on Civil and Political Rights and other provisions of international and
domestic law - to refrain from holding prisoners in secret and hiding
them from the ICRC, the independent international body entrusted with
oversight of compliance with the laws of war. The amendment is intended
to create a check against torture and other cruel and inhuman treatment
under the CIA's secret detention program. After years of refusing to
deny or confirm the existence of an executive order authorizing this
program, the President finally acknowledged in September 2006 that that
the U.S. government was operating a secret detention system in which
prisoners were held without official acknowledgement, even to the ICRC.
"Holding people in secret facilities as ‘ghost prisoners' sets the stage for torture and other forms of cruelty," stated Elisa Massimino,
executive director of Human Rights First. "That is why the United
States in the past has always condemned the practice when other
governments engaged in it. Mandating Red Cross access to prisoners in
the custody of the U.S. intelligence community stops short of requiring
public disclosure of the locations or conditions of these facilities,
but it would provide a prudent measure of outside oversight on a
detention program that continues to be shrouded in secrecy and has
resulted in the torture and deaths of detainees in U.S. custody."
The United States government has not acknowledged the exact number
of people in the CIA detention and interrogation program. Since the
inception of the program, the CIA has reportedly operated detention
centers in Afghanistan, the island of Diego-Garcia, Djibouti, Thailand,
Jordan, Morocco, Eastern
Europe, including Poland and Romania, and Guantánamo Bay. It is unclear
where the CIA is currently detaining prisoners.
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