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United States: video link between Guantanamo detainees and families

18-09-2009 News Release 09/188

Washington/Geneva (ICRC) – Thanks to a programme initiated by the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) and the United States military, detainees at the Guantanamo Bay naval facility are now able to communicate with their families by video-teleconference calls.

This strictly humanitarian initiative was launched on 17 September with over 60 detainees registering to make calls. Each call lasts one hour and is limited to members of the immediate family or other close relatives. The detainees and their loved ones are able to see each other on a screen throughout the call. Conversations are limited to family and personal news only, and are monitored by the authorities at Guantanamo.

" Although nothing can replace the face-to-face contact of personal visits, this video link offers detainees and their families a new way of communicating with each other, " said Jens-Martin Mehler, the ICRC delegate in charge of visits to Guantanamo. " Wherever the ICRC visits detainees, it seeks to ensure that they have the possibility of maintaining contact with their families. "

The families will take part in the calls at ICRC or national Red Cross/Red Crescent offices in their country of residence. " A similar video link has been provided for families whose relatives are detained at Bagram Theater Internment Facility in Afghanistan since the beginning of 2008, " said Mr Mehler. " However, the Guantanamo programme represents a greater technical and logistical challenge, in that it will eventually link almost 30 different locations in over 20 countries. "

The ICRC has been visiting those held at Guantanamo since January 2002. It offers these and other detainees all over the world the opportunity to correspond with their families through Red Cross messages, some 49,153 of which have been collected and distributed between Guantanamo and families abroad since 2002. Since April 2008, Guantanamo detainees have been able to s peak to their families by telephone several times a year under a programme facilitated by the ICRC.

For further information, please contact:
  Bernard Barrett, ICRC Washington, tel: +1 202 587 4604 or +1 202 361 1566
  Simon Schorno, ICRC Geneva, tel: +41 79 251 9302