Red Cross concerned about health of detainees at Guantánamo Bay

Red Cross concerned about health of detainees at Guantánamo Bay

GUANTÁNAMO BAY, Cuba — A senior official with the International Committee of the Red Cross issued a rare statement of alarm on Friday over deteriorating health conditions and inadequate preparations for aging prisoners at Guantánamo Bay.

The U.S. military must do a better job of providing care for prisoners who “experience symptoms of accelerated aging, compounded by the cumulative effects of their experiences and years spent in custody,” Patrick Hamilton, head of the delegation’s the Red Cross for the United States and Canada, said in the release.

In March, Mr Hamilton and other delegates made a routine quarterly visit to the detention centre, the organization’s 146th since the war prison opened in January 2002. He said “the needs of physical and mental health of inmates increase and become more and more difficult”.

“Consideration should be given to adapting the infrastructure to the changing needs and disabilities of prisoners, as well as the rules that govern their daily lives,” said Mr Hamilton, who last visited the prison in 2003. , while 660 men and boys were held there. Today, 30 inmates remain.

Red Cross officials generally do not comment publicly on conditions at the detention center, preferring to keep communications with the US government confidential.

Usually, quarterly visits include meetings with the commandant of the detention center, who is currently a brigadier general in the Michigan National Guard. Members of the delegation, which usually includes a doctor, also meet the detainees, interview those who will soon be released and pass on messages from the family.

Mr Hamilton said Guantánamo military officials were “offering temporary solutions” to prisoners’ growing physical and mental health needs.

He urged the Biden administration and Congress to, as a priority, “find adequate and lasting solutions to address these issues.”

Lawyers for some of the prisoners, particularly those who spent years in harsh, secret CIA detention prior to Guantánamo, said the detainees suffered from brain damage and disorders from beatings and sleep deprivation, systems gastrointestinal damage from rectal abuse and problems possibly related to prolonged shackling and other confinement.

One of the most weakened prisoners is Abd al-Hadi al-Iraqi, who is in his 60s and is the oldest inmate in the prison. He has had six spine and back surgeries at Guantánamo Bay since 2017 by Navy medical teams who were airlifted to the base.

His lawyer, Susan Hensler, said Friday that Mr Hadi had recently been diagnosed with “severe osteoporosis” which likely contributed to problems during his last operation in November. Doctors inserted metal into her back, but the device slipped and the screws came loose, she said. Navy doctors plan to bring a team to base this year for another surgery, using larger screws.

The Red Cross statement comes less than a month after a group of United Nations investigators went public with a complaint they had submitted to the United States on January 11 regarding health care at the prison, and for Mr. Hadi in particular.

Mr Hamilton said the United States needed to take a “more holistic approach” to inmate health care. “All detainees must have access to adequate health care that takes into account both deteriorating mental and physical conditions – whether at Guantánamo Bay Naval Base or elsewhere. This includes medical emergencies.

“At the same time, thought must be given to adapting the infrastructure to the changing needs and disabilities of prisoners, as well as the rules that govern their daily lives,” he said.

Government employees, who were not allowed to be identified by name, complained of air conditioning problems at the prison for inmates during the month of Ramadan, which is coming to an end.

The military made no immediate comment on either the Red Cross concern or the air conditioning issue.

The Red Cross official also urged the Pentagon to grant its prisoners longer and more frequent phone calls with family members, “keeping in mind the complete lack of in-person visits.”

Lawyers said detainees generally have the right to speak to family members four times a year.

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