GENEVA – The International Red Cross on Friday renewed its demand that it be allowed to visit all detainees in "undisclosed locations" after a senior State Department official confirmed the United States has yet to grant the agency access to all its terror suspects.
ICRC President Jakob Kellenberger was commenting on a remark Thursday by State Department legal adviser John B. Bellinger III, who was asked by reporters during a visit to Geneva whether the ICRC has access to all other similar prisoners held by the United States elsewhere in the world. Bellinger replied, "No," and declined to say any more.
Kellenberger noted that he has been urging top U.S. officials for at least two years to make sure the ICRC, which is assigned under the Geneva Conventions on warfare to check on conditions of detainees, gains access to all detainees held by the United States.
"We continue to be in intense dialogue with them with the aim of getting access to all people detained in the framework of the so-called war on terror without any geographical limitation," Kellenberger said.
He said the ICRC was are already visiting "very many detainees" being held by the United States "in Guantanamo, in Afghanistan, in Iraq," but he declined to say where else the ICRC believed the United States was holding detainees.
Kellenberger, asked whether the ICRC had visited any secret U.S. detention facilities in Europe, said, "No."
After Kellenberger made his comments, a State Department spokesman in Washington said the United States did not allow Red Cross access to some detainees under U.S. control.
"We do not consider under the Geneva Convention those members of Al Qaeda as covered by the Geneva Convention," spokesman Adam Ereli said. "But at the same time, even though we're not legally required to do so, we do provide access to the vast majority of detainees under our control. There are some, however, that we do not.
Kellenberger noted that the ICRC issued a statement in January 2004 as he concluded meetings with top U.S. officials in Washington, including then-Secretary of State Colin Powell and then-National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice.
"Beyond Guantanamo, the ICRC is increasingly concerned about the fate of an unknown number of people captured as part of the so-called global war on terror and held in undisclosed locations," the 2004 ICRC statement said. "Mr. Kellenberger echoed previous official requests from the ICRC for information on these detainees and for eventual access to them."
The Council of Europe, the continent's top human rights watchdog, has launched an investigation. EU leaders say any member states found to have been involved could have their voting rights suspended.
Poland and Romania have been identified by the New York-based Human Rights Watch as sites of possible CIA secret prisons in Europe, but both countries have repeatedly denied any involvement.
Bellinger said the United States "would dearly love to deny many of the allegations" about secret prisons in Europe, but had decided that it cannot comment on some intelligence activities — "even to deny those things that are clearly wrong" — and not on others.
"So it's quite difficult, because it does leave publics thinking that the United States is doing things that it is not, in certain cases," he added. "All of our public expect that our intelligence activities ... will be carried out in secret."
More than a half-dozen investigations are under way into whether European countries may have hosted secret U.S.-run prisons, and whether European airports and airspace were used for CIA flights in which prisoners were tortured or transported to countries where torture is practiced.
The Washington Post first reported the alleged existence of secret prisons in eastern Europe and other countries last month.