Saturday, May 13, 2006

Rice, Rumsfeld block access to secret detainees

Rice, Rumsfeld block access to secret detainees: ICRC

GENEVA (Reuters) - The United States has again refused the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) access to terrorism suspects held in secret detention centers, the humanitarian agency said on Friday.

The overnight statement was issued after talks in Washington between ICRC President Jakob Kellenberger and senior officials, including Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld and National Security Adviser Stephen Hadley.

"Mr. Kellenberger deplored the fact that the U.S. authorities had not moved closer to granting the ICRC access to persons held in undisclosed locations," the Geneva-based agency said.

Kellenberger said: "No matter how legitimate the grounds for detention, there exists no right to conceal a person's whereabouts or to deny that he or she is being detained."

The former senior Swiss diplomat said that the ICRC would continue to seek access to such people as a matter of priority.

The main objective of his annual visit this week was for the ICRC to be granted access to "all persons held by the U.S. in the context of the fight against terrorism, an issue he first raised with the U.S. government over two years ago," the agency said.

Antonella Notari, chief ICRC spokeswoman, noted that Kellenberger had first raised the issue with former Secretary of State Colin Powell and Rice, then National Security Adviser, in January 2004.

"We have just received a negative response again," Notari said on Friday.

The agency recognized there were legitimate grounds for holding foreign terrorism suspects who posed a threat to the United States, she said.

"Having said that, it is absolutely vital for such people to be held in a clear legal framework and that they are granted all basic judicial safeguards," Notari added. "Obviously this includes those people held in secret places of detention."

A Washington Post report last year, which said that the CIA had run secret prisons in Europe and flown suspects to states where they would have been tortured, unleashed a spate of investigations. But none so far have produced solid proof.

The United Nations torture investigator, Manfred Nowak, told a European Union parliamentary committee probing the allegations there was evidence of secret detention centers outside the United States, but no definite proof they had existed in Europe.

John Bellinger, the State Department's legal adviser, reiterated last week Washington's position that it does not outsource torture or transfer people it suspects of being involved in terrorism to places where it can expect them to be tortured.