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(New York)—Revelations that U.S. forces hid dozens of Iraqi detainees from the International Committee of the Red Cross require an independent investigation, Human Rights Watch said today.

U.S. Army investigators told Congress on Thursday that detainees at Baghdad’s infamous Abu Ghraib prison—ranging from two dozen to as many as 100—were hidden from the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) at the request of the Central Intelligence Agency, which refused repeated requests to cooperate with two Pentagon probes. Keeping detained belligerents from the ICRC violates the Geneva Conventions and subjects them to potential abuse.

"Secret detention is the gateway to torture," said Reed Brody, Special Counsel at Human Rights Watch. "History shows that when people are taken off the books, they become vulnerable to mistreatment, torture and even ‘disappearance.’"

Gen. Paul Kern, the senior officer who oversaw the Army inquiry, told the Senate Armed Services Committee that "The number [of ghost detainees] is in the dozens, to perhaps up to 100." Another Army investigator, Maj. Gen. George Fay, put the figure at "two dozen or so." Both officers said they could not give a precise number because no records were kept and because the CIA refused to provide information to the investigators.

Previously, Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld had acknowledged that in one case last November, acting at the request of then-CIA Director George Tenet, he ordered that a senior Iraqi detainee be held off the books at Iraq’s Camp Cropper detention center.

“The revelations about ‘ghost detainees’ show that the policy of detainee abuse not only reaches the highest levels of the U.S. government, but is spread across its different agencies,” said Brody. “It is increasingly obvious that only an independent panel, along the lines of the September 11 commission, can begin to repair the damage done by Abu Ghraib."

The Third Geneva Convention in article 126 (concerning prisoners of war) and the Fourth Geneva Convention in article 143 (concerning detained civilians) requires the ICRC to have access to all detainees and places of detention. Visits may only be prohibited for "reasons of imperative military necessity" and then only as "an exceptional and temporary measure."

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