GENEVA – The Red Cross expects to meet for the first time 14 high-level terrorism suspects who were recently transferred from CIA secret prisons to Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, at a visit to the camp starting next week, a spokeswoman said Wednesday.
Antonella Notari, chief spokeswoman for the International Committee of the Red Cross, said officials will arrive Monday for a scheduled two-week visit to Guantanamo. The ICRC is the only neutral agency with full access to Guantanamo detainees.
"There is no reason to believe that there should be a problem seeing these detainees in the course of the visit," she said. "The priority of the upcoming mission is to talk in private and to register the newly transferred detainees and to provide them the means to communicate with their family members through Red Cross messages."
Notari said it was still unclear on which day the first meetings with the new detainees would take place. President Bush announced their transfer earlier this month to Guantanamo from clandestine detention centers overseas, clearing the way for ICRC visits.
The prisoners include alleged Sept. 11 mastermind Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, who was arrested in Pakistan in March 2003. The Red Cross' message service, which is subject to U.S. censoring, will be his first contact with the outside world in more than three years.
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.
The Geneva-based humanitarian organization, 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. It insists on the right to meet one-on-one with prisoners at all of its visits.
"The ICRC expects to be able to talk in private to any detainee — including the 14 recently transferred to Guantanamo Bay," Notari said.
She said the team would be comprised of officials based in Washington and outside the United States.
The officials will facilitate communication between the prisoners and their family members, but Notari said any correspondence using the Red Cross' standard, one-page form are supposed to be personal in nature.
U.S. officials may censor any of the letters, and it is not expected that any information will be transmitted on detainee treatment in CIA prisons.
Bush said no detainees remain in CIA custody, but his admission of the prison program sparked criticism from a number of world leaders. European lawmakers have demanded to know the exact locations of the prisons and critics elsewhere argued the system tacitly approves torture.
Bush said that interrogation techniques used were tough, but did not constitute torture. He also said the secret prison program would continue because it is one of the most vital tools in the war on terror.
ICRC delegates visit detainees in Guantanamo every six weeks on average and are satisfied with the access they have there, Notari said.