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Human Rights Watch Seeks Access to Afghan Detainees

Letter to Secretary of Defense Rumsfeld

The Honorable Donald Rumsfeld
Secretary of Defense
The Pentagon
Washington, DC 20301

Dear Mr. Secretary:

President Bush affirmed last week the commitment of the United States to treat humanely all detainees from the armed conflict in Afghanistan. Humane treatment of those detainees is not only required by the Geneva Conventions, but it will contribute to the credibility of future American efforts to insist on appropriate treatment of detainees by other governments in this or any other armed conflict. The broader national and international interests in upholding international legal obligations will only be served, however, if the detention conditions are fully transparent.

We therefore renew our request to visit the the camp at Guantanamo Bay and in addition request access to facilities at Kandahar, Bagram and other locations in Afghanistan where captured combatants are being held by U.S. armed forces. We would like to tour the camps, speak with U.S. officials about current conditions and future plans, and interview detainees in private. Although the Pentagon has provided information about the conditions under which Taliban and al-Qaeda detainees are being held in Guantanamo Bay and has permitted some press access, the conditions of confinement of captured combatants held overseas-which are no less important-remain essentially unknown.

You have publicly committed "to bring more transparency as to how [the United States] handles detainees" in the Afghanistan conflict, and "to fashion a system that is as open as possible so that the American people can have a good comfort level about the process itself." An independent assessment and public accounting of the detention conditions would further these aims. While the ICRC has visited detainees held by the U.S. in Cuba as well as in Afghanistan, their findings are confidential.

Monitoring conditions under which detainees are held is central to Human Rights Watch's mission and experience. For over two decades, we have promoted adherence to the laws of war by parties to armed conflict as well as respect for international human rights norms. We have monitored the conduct of parties to many conflicts, bringing to bear our investigative expertise, our impartiality and our commitment to meticulous respect for the facts. We also have over two decades of experience assessing conditions of detention in facilities around the world.

We would hope to be able to review our findings with the Defense Department prior to releasing them publicly and would welcome the opportunity to talk with department officials about any problems we identified and possible solutions to them. In visiting the facilities, we would also abide by the security conditions that the Department imposes.

We would like to undertake the visits to the U.S. facilities as soon as possible. We look forward to discussing this request with the Department at your earliest convenience.

Sincerely,

Kenneth Roth
Executive Director

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