Military Uses "Surgical Masks" for Torture Submission

Prisoners: shackled and blindfolded, wearing surgical masks and earmuffs

Detainees guarded by military police in Camp X-Ray, Cuba

Prisoners' treatment is “bordering on torture,” charity says


"Red Cross spokesman told the media, however, that the United States had contravened the Geneva Conventions by releasing photos that showed the men kneeling shackled and blindfolded, wearing SURGICAL MASKS and earmuffs."

The International Committee of the Red Cross is to establish a permanent presence in the prison camp at Guantanamo Bay naval base in Cuba, after pictures released by the US navy caused an international outcry at what appeared to be degrading treatment of the al-Quaida and Taliban prisoners from Afghanistan who are held there.

A four member Red Cross team, including a doctor, reviewed conditions at the camp and visited prisoners individually. Their report will not be made public but will be presented to US authorities.


A Red Cross spokesman told the media, however, that the United States had contravened the Geneva Conventions by releasing photos that showed the men kneeling shackled and blindfolded, wearing surgical masks and earmuffs. A provision forbids exposing prisoners of war “to public curiosity” (Independent 22 January, p 1).

A doctor from the UK based charity the Medical Foundation for the Care of Victims of Torture also criticised the prisoners' treatment this week.


Dr Duncan Forrest, who has treated many torture victims for the charity, said the sensory deprivation inflicted on the prisoners was “bordering on torture” and “could cause immediate and lasting psychological symptoms akin to post-traumatic stress disorder if it lasted more than about 20 hours.”


Although the prisoners are not shackled or blindfolded in their open air cages, the transit from Kandahar takes 27 hours, and the prisoners were shackled and blindfolded during that period.


Detainees guarded by military police in Camp X-Ray, Cuba


“Shaving them and saying they are full of lice also strikes me as degrading behaviour, especially in view of their religious beliefs regarding beards,” said Dr Forrest.

The United States claims that the detainees are “unlawful combatants” and not prisoners of war and are therefore not protected by the Geneva Conventions. This position has been rejected by the Red Cross and the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Mary Robinson.


Amendments made to the Geneva Conventions in 1977 specified that prisoners taken in internal and civil conflicts must still be considered prisoners of war. Article 4 of the 1949 convention, which defines the term “prisoner of war,” includes in its definition “members of regular armed forces who profess allegiance to a government or an authority not recognized by the Detaining power.”


Some experts say, however, that the US interpretation is correct as the prisoners were not fighting for a “formed state.” Ultimately, it will be for a court to decide. Prisoner of war status would guarantee certain rights, notably the right to return home at the end of hostilities and the right not to divulge any information beyond name, rank, and serial number.


Moreover, any prisoner of war accused of war crimes must be brought before a properly constituted court and given due process. The Americans plan to set up military tribunals, which will meet in private, with the power to hand out death sentences.

A meeting of aid donors in Tokyo this week led to pledges of aid totalling $4.5bn (£3.2bn; €5bn) for the reconstruction of Afghanistan.



Detainees guarded by military police in Camp X-Ray, Cuba


Source: NCBI - US National Li brary of Medicine

National Institutes of Health

118 views0 comments