UK charity: measures go beyond acceptable norms
Removing the beards of al-Qaeda prisoners for delousing purposes and forcing the men to wear masks, goggles, and thick gloves that deprive them of the sense of touch go beyond acceptable norms of security and hygiene, says a leading human rights charity.
The London-based Medical Foundation for the Care of Victims of Torture says it recognises the dangers posed by prisoners intent on violent confrontation, or suicide, but it fears some precautions taken by US forces en route to Guantánamo Bay, Cuba were unnecessarily humiliating and degrading.
Director of Public Affairs Sherman Carroll said today: "Captured al-Qaeda fighters might well include very dangerous men – some of whom may be accused of crimes against humanity – who required restraint while in transit.
"But there was no need upon arrival at Guantánamo Bay to keep them kneeling in wrist and ankle manacles, with blacked-out eye masks, earmuffs, mittens and surgical masks over the face. We have no way of knowing how long the prisoners were subjected to such measures, but sensory deprivation over a prolonged period amounts to cruel and inhuman treatment under international standards, and can cause lasting psychological damage.
"We are particularly concerned that the US military saw no harm in such measures, otherwise the pictures would not have been released. This raises worrying questions about how far they feel they are entitled to go in the treatment of these prisoners. Winning a war does not entitle the victor to humiliate the vanquished.”
Mr Carroll called for the speedy setting up of a competent tribunal as outlined in Article 5 of the 3rd Geneva Convention to determine whether the al-Qaeda men are prisoners of war, thereby entitled to full protection under the Geneva Conventions. "To be competent the court would have to be the same as the one to which the detaining State submits its own citizens,” said Mr Carroll.
"In these circumstances a properly constituted US court martial with its laws of evidence, standards of proof and legal guarantees for the accused would be a competent authority,” said Mr Carroll. "It is imperative that the US administration allow a competent court to determine the status of the prisoners as quickly as possible, otherwise disquiet in Britain and abroad will continue to grow.”
Further information from Medical Foundation press office on 0207 813 3445.