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ICRC activities in Guantanamo - interviews

26-08-2003 Interview

Béatrice Mégevand-Roggo is the ICRC Delegate General for Europe and the Americas. Daniel Cavoli was the former leader of ICRC visiting team in Guantanamo. They both speak of ICRC activities on behalf of internees in Guantanamo Bay.


    Béatrice Mégevand-Roggo  


 1.What are the ICRC's main concerns regarding the internees in Guantanamo Bay ?  
Well, as you know there is a great deal ICRC can say about the conditions of detention and the treatment of detainees in any detention place in the world actually. It is not limited to Guantanamo. Now there are a number of things that we have said publicly and of course they are the things we are saying in bilateral and confidential dialogue with the American authorities as well. The main concern for the ICRC is the fact that our people have been detained in Guantanamo now for 18 months or even a bit more, and there is apparently no end to th is detention and it means, for the time being, that the detention system in Guantanamo is an open-ended one, in which the detainees do not know at all what is going to happen to them, how long they are going to be held there and what will be the outcome of this. Will they have a process? Will they be released? Will they be repatriated? And this is something that takes a toll, a heavy toll, on their psychological conditions of course.
 2.What are the significant changes the ICRC has asked for in Guantanamo Bay?  
We would like the United States authorities to introduce significant changes in the conditions of detention in Guantanamo. We realize of course this is not for public consumption but they know very well what the requests on the ICRC are, and especially we would like the whole judicial procedure to be sped up, and for each and every detainee to be allowed to have a due legal process, which is not the case for the time being.

    Daniel Cavoli  


 1.Could you describe a typical working day for the ICRC in the camp?  
Well, it starts like everywhere, I mean early in the morning, like 8 o'clock and we all meet: delegates of the ICRC all meet in a very tiny place which is an ICRC trailer. We are located just outside the Delta Camp, which is the name of the detention camp in Guantanamo. So we all meet and we dispatch the lists of people we want to see and then of course off we go inside the camp. Before that we just share some information with the liaison officers of the United States Army because we need the collaboration of them with the escorts. So when we enter the main gate, which is roughly around 9 o'clock in the morning, we meet our escorts who accompany us to the blocks or the different places we have to go to within the camp. But then after we carry out interviews without witness, or say it is private talks, meaning a bilateral discussion only with the prisoner and the ICRC delegates or the ICRC interpreter in all the languages working in the camp, meaning English, French, Spanish, Italian, Pashtou, Urdu and Persian and even Russian and Arabic of course, because we have lots of Arabs there. These private talks last between half an hour up to two hours, but at the same time we do not only do the private talks but we walk around the blocks where we just chit-chat with the prisoners at all times on different issues, but nothing confidential because I mean what a prisoner might share with us in the block can be overheard by someone else including a coup detainee and not only the detaining authority. But the most important thing we do in the blocks is of course distribute and record messages and the pictures attached and a third possibility to write response messages to the internees.

2.What are the importance of private talks between ICRC delegates and the internees?
There is an additional thing that is extremely important for the prisoners probably with us when we have the private talks. It is to let the prisoner complete freedom in to being himself as much as he can and he wants to be. That can range from sheer emotions. Somebody can just crack up and cry or just get mad at the ICRC because his own situation is that he doesn't know where he stands. he doesn't know anything about the future. He doesn't know anything about his legal status. He is not very aware about his family. He receives Red Cross messages or US mail not in a timely manner, whatever the reason be and of course the ICRC has very little impact on changing things but the rule we have is to listen to the person and be the punching ball and just to be there to listen and try to comfort the person and that is probably the added value as well for the prisoner because of course, I mean with us they can do whatever they want and nothing may happen to a prisoner afterwards as well.

3.What is the significance of Red Cross Messages for the internees?
On my last day in Guantanamo there was something that touched me personally, extremely much, because I know how generous people can be to each other. There was a block with many male prisoners and only two of them got Red Cross messages and pictures and it is always very difficult when you come and distribute messages and then you know that not everyone is going to receive one. But the two who received them were extremely happy and emotional because they received not only a message but pictures as well. Well, the rest of the block became extremely happy. They shouted very nice words and I was happy actually this time in this block about the joy they had to see the two detainees who had received family news, and yet they themselves had not received anything at all for quite a while. But the generosity and the ha ppiness to see that somebody received something oversaw their grief or their own sorrow not to receive anything.