Thursday, May 29, 2003
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By Hasan Suroor
The International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) in Baghdad has protested that it has been denied access to the POWs and its requests for permission to be allowed to inspect conditions in which they are being held have been ignored. There is concern about the prisoners' health and mental state following reports that they are being `gagged' and `hooded' like the Taliban captives at the Guantanamo Bay camp in Cuba.
A French cameraman, Leo Nicolian, who was briefly held by American forces after being mistakenly arrested told The Observer newspaper that he saw `hundreds' of men, hooded with their arms tied behind their backs.
An aid worker said he saw another group "in a similar state aboard a truck, apparently in transit from one place to another.'' According to the newspaper, up to 3,000 Iraqis were being held in "compounds close to Baghdad airport'' in "searing heat'' and with no access to relief agencies. The ICRC said that while it had been able to gain access to the POWs in Umm Qasr, it was still waiting for the "green light'' to visit prisoners in Baghdad.
An ICRC official, Nada Doumani, said this was in "breach'' of the third Geneva Convention and insisted that under international law relating to POWs, the ICRC should be given immediate access to the prisoners. She said families of a large number of civilians, arrested for looting, had not even been informed of their whereabouts.
``Civilian prisoners under a military occupation have the right to be visited and documented and for their next-of-kin to be informed. Hundreds of families are looking around Baghdad for members of their families who have gone missing and are believed to have been arrested. They are being taken somewhere, but no one knows where,'' she said.
Experts pointed out that there was no ambiguity about the status of the Iraqis detained by American forces and under the international law governing military conflict, they were entitled access to the Red Cross. They were also required to be treated `humanely' but it was to be ascertained whether gagging and hooding violated the norms of humane treatment.
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