GENEVA – The international Red Cross on Thursday welcomed the United States' decision to move high-level terrorism suspects from secret prisons to Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, and said it would visit the detainees "very soon."
"We welcome the transfer of these detainees from secret places of detention to an official place of detention," said Antonella Notari, chief spokeswoman of the International Committee of the Red Cross, which has been the only neutral agency with full access to Guantanamo detainees.
The move announced by U.S. President George W. Bush on Wednesday clears the way for visits to the newly transferred detainees, Notari said.
"That's certainly a move we welcome," she said. "We have long insisted on the priority for us for people to be held in official places of detention."
The ICRC, which began visiting detainees in Guantanamo in 2002, has long been demanding access to secret detention centers, which it concluded must have existed because its delegates never found some of the detainees they knew the United States had arrested, she noted.
"The ICRC was informed yesterday by the U.S. authorities of the transfer of detainees previously held in U.S. undisclosed places of detention to Guantanamo," Notari told The Associated Press. "In addition to that we were informed that we would have prompt access to these people according to our standard modalities for visits."
The agency, which visits prisoners of war under the Geneva Conventions on warfare, always demands access to all detainees and to the facilities where they are held, Notari said. It insists on meeting each prisoner in private and to be able to make repeat visits and relay messages between the prisoners and their families.
Notari said the ICRC had yet to determine whether it has visited the detainees in other locations before their transfer to Guantanamo, "but we don't think so because the information is that they're coming from undisclosed places of detention."
"We will very soon — in the coming days — carry out a visit and verify ourselves who was there, how many were there and who they are," she said.
The ICRC is so far unable to confirm that this is the end of the U.S. policy of secret detention, Notari said.
"We need to assess the situation now," she said. "We do remain concerned and attentive about any persons still detained at the present time in secret locations or who might be detained incommunicado in the future."
ICRC delegates visit detainees in Guantanamo every four to six weeks as a rule, and the agency is satisfied with the access they have there, she said.