GUANTANAMO BAY, Cuba — A senior official of the International Committee of the Red Cross issued a rare alarm statement on Friday about deteriorating health conditions and inadequate preparations for aging detainees at Guantanamo Bay.
The U.S. military needs to take better care of prisoners who are “experiencing the symptoms of accelerated aging, compounded by the cumulative effects of their experiences and years spent in detention,” Patrick Hamilton, the head of the Red Cross delegation to the United States and Canada, said. said in the statement.
In March, Mr Hamilton and other deputies made a routine quarterly visit to the detention center, the organisation’s 146th visit since the war prison opened in January 2002. He said the detainees’ “physical and mental health needs are increasing and increasingly challenging “.
“Thought needs to be given to adapting the infrastructure to the changing needs and disabilities of inmates, as well as the rules governing their daily lives,” said Hamilton, who had last visited the prison in 2003, when 660 men and women boys were held. held there. Today there are still 30 detainees.
Red Cross officials generally do not comment publicly on conditions at the detention center, preferring to keep their communications with the US government confidential.
Typically, quarterly visits include meetings with the detention facility commander, who is currently a brigadier general in the Michigan National Guard. Members of the delegation, which usually includes a doctor, also meet with detainees, interview those soon to be released and convey messages from family.
Mr Hamilton said military officials at Guantánamo were “offering some temporary solutions” to the detainees’ increasing physical and mental health needs.
He urged the Biden administration and Congress to prioritize “finding adequate and sustainable solutions to address these issues.”
Lawyers for some detainees, particularly those who spent years in harsh, secret CIA custody off Guantánamo, have said detainees have brain damage and impairment from beatings and sleep deprivation, damaged gastrointestinal systems from rectal abuse, and problems that may be related to prolonged chaining and other restriction.
One of the most debilitated inmates is Abd al-Hadi al-Iraqi, who is in his 60s and the prison’s oldest inmate. He underwent six surgeries since 2017 on his spine and back at Guantánamo Bay by Navy medical teams flown to the base.
His lawyer, Susan Hensler, said on Friday that Mr Hadi had recently been diagnosed with “severe osteoporosis”, which likely contributed to problems at his most recent surgery, in November. Doctors stabbed metal in his 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 operation, which will use larger propellers.
The Red Cross statement comes less than a month after a group of United Nations investigators released a complaint they made to the United States on Jan. 11 about prison health care, and specifically for Mr Hadi .
Mr Hamilton said the United States needed to adopt a “more comprehensive approach” to prisoner health care. “All detainees should have access to adequate health care that accounts for both deteriorating mental and physical conditions – whether at Guantanamo Bay naval base or elsewhere. This also applies to cases of medical emergencies.”
“At the same time, consideration should be given to adapting the infrastructure to the changing needs and disabilities of the detainees, as well as the rules governing their daily lives,” he said.
Government officials, who were not authorized to be named, have complained about problems with the prison’s air conditioning for detainees during the month of Ramadan, which is drawing to a close.
The military had no immediate comment on the Red Cross concerns or the air conditioning issue.
The Red Cross official also urged the Pentagon to allow its detainees longer and more frequent calls to relatives, “considering the total absence of in-person visits.”
Lawyers have said detainees generally have the right to speak to family members four times a year.