The International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) is proud to define itself as “an impartial, neutral and independent organization.” The ICRC is the self-appointed guardian of the standards set forth by the Geneva Conventions. Seven fundamental principles are purportedly at the base of the ICRC: humanity, impartiality, neutrality, independence, voluntary service, unity and universality. The group says its mission is to bring emergency relief to victims of disasters and conflicts and to improve basic living conditions of those in deprived areas of the world. However, a spokeswoman for the ICRC has taken a pointedly non-neutral stance regarding Saddam Hussein and his imprisonment.
On June 14th, The Guardian reported that Nada Doumani, a spokesperson for ICRC, had challenged America’s continued imprisonment of Saddam Hussein, the captured former president of Iraq. In the interview, Ms. Doumani said, “The United States defines Hussein as a prisoner of war. At the end of an occupation POWs have to be released provided they have no penal charges against them.” The only Iraqis given POW status are senior officials of Saddam’s regime and Saddam Hussein himself. “When the conflict ends the prisoners of war should be released,” Ms Doumani further explained. She expressed concern for the deposed murderous tyrant, saying, “no one should be left not knowing their legal status.”
Statements made by Ms. Doumani seem to fly in the face of the ICRCs very own mission statement. Perhaps this is why less than 48 hours later, Antonella Noatri, chief spokesperson of the International Committee of the Red Cross in Geneva, issued a damage control statement, in which she claimed the organization was not calling for Hussein’s release. On its official website, www.icrc.org, the society claims, “(T)he ICRC has never called for all Iraqi prisoners of war to be released.” The website also calls for prosecution of all persons who have violated international humanitarian law, in an press release entitled “Iraq: What the Geneva Conventions say about the future of persons deprived of their freedom.”
“In theory, when a war ends and when an occupation ends, the detaining force has to release prisoners of war or civilian detainees if there are no reasons for holding them,” Ms. Notari explained. “Of course, he (Saddam) must be prosecuted, tried, through a legal proceeding,” she added.
However, these second statements are uninformed at best. Ms. Doumani clearly called for the release of any prisoner of war that has not been charged, specifically Saddam Hussein. Claiming it “never” happened is a poor attempt to cover up the organization’s duplicity. The ICRC's first founding principal is humanity. Where was their sense of humanity while Saddam was in power? The ICRC has been in Iraq since 1980, to help during the Iran-Iraq conflict. They have received support from numerous national Red Cross and Red Crescent societies in order to build the Iraqi Red Crescent Society. The atrocities Saddam is being held for happened under their watch, but now ICRC is more concerned with his legal rights than they were with the innocent civilians he massacred during the last twenty years.
Predictably, the organization’s flip-flop on the issue brought criticism from the pro-Saddam side of the aisle. A Jordanian attorney who claims to represent Saddam, Mohammed Rashdan, told Fox News that the Red Cross’ stand against releasing Hussein “violates international and military law.”
Still, regardless of Doumani’s call for his release, Saddam will be tried by a special war crimes tribunal in Iraq. He may face charges including the killing of Shiite Marsh Arabs in southern Iraq in the late 1980s and 1990s, as well as the gassing of Kurds in 1988, the invasion of Kuwait in 1990 and the torture of prisoners of war during the war with Iran in the 1980s.
The United States is set to hand over control of Iraq on June 30. However, tens of thousands of coalition troops will remain. This is part of a resolution unanimously approved by the U.N. Security Council. Does the continued presence of U.S. forces equal a continued occupation? According to Ms. Doumani, that would be “determined by the situation on the ground.” If the U.S. is still technically an occupying force after the transfer of power, then Hussein and his cohorts will continue to be prisoners of war until coalition forces leave altogether...which begs the question, why are they concerned?
Officials for the United States have stated they will continue to detain some Iraqis after June 30, as part of the security operations. And while the U.S. is working on a deal to transfer Saddam Hussein into the legal custody of the new Iraqi governing council, he will more than likely remain under the guard of American troops. “Legal custody and physical custody can be two separate things,” Paul Bremer told the Washington Post last week. Bakhtiar Amin, Human Rights Minister for the Iraqi Council, said Iraq and coalition forces needed to forge a partnership on the nearly five thousand prisoners detained, not only on Saddam. This is due to fears that the Iraqi government may not be able to ensure the high-level officials, and Saddam himself, remain behind bars.
This is not the first time this year the ICRC has seemed to be at odds with the United States government. After the Abu Graib prison abuse photos were publicized in May, Pierre Krahenbuhl, Director of Operations, spoke out against the U.S. for leaking their report on detainee abuses by Coalition forces to The Wall Street Journal. Mr. Krahenbuhl also expressed concern over the leak of confidential information to Radio Free Europe. "Confidentiality obviously also helps in obtaining access to prisoners worldwide and is, in that sense, essential to carry out meaningful work for the persons detained," Krahenbuhl said. "That is the reason why we are disturbed to see this (Iraq) report having been made public."
It seems the ICRC needs to re-learn the definitions of “impartiality” and “neutrality.” It is supposed to care about humanity, unity and independence. One would think the group would be promoting the prosecution of Saddam, not his absolution. Instead it is arguing for the release of a cruel, ruthless and vicious tyrant who murdered hundreds of thousands of his own people, hardly a humanitarian role.
Dana E. Rangel is a freelance writer and mother of one in Houston, Texas. She studied fine arts and communication at San Jacinto College.