by William Fisher
(IPS) NEW YORK -- The International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) is hitting back at a Senate Republican report calling on the Bush administration to reassess financial support for the organization because it is allegedly using U.S. funds to lobby against U.S. interests.
ICRC President Jakob Kellenberger said the senators' "purpose appears to be to discredit the ICRC by putting forward false allegations and unsubstantiated accusations."
"The ICRC is not -- and does not feel -- above criticism and is open to constructive dialogue with those who have different opinions. However, dialogue does not appear to be the primary objective of the authors of the (report)," Kellenberger said at a press conference.
The Senate Republican Policy Committee said in a report that the international humanitarian organization had "lost its way" and veered from the impartiality on which its reputation was based.
The report -- "Are American Interests Being Disserved by the International Committee of the Red Cross?" -- follows criticism by the Swiss-based group of U.S. treatment of detainees in Iraq, Afghanistan and Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.
The Republican report called on the Bush administration to ask the Government Accountability Office (GAO) to review Red Cross operations, noting that the U.S. funds 28 percent of the group's budget and has contributed $1.5 billion since 1990.
A Senate source denied that the report was motivated by a desire to punish the ICRC for embarrassing the United States on its treatment of prisoners. In the aftermath of the prison abuse scandal at Abu Ghraib in Iraq and elsewhere, the role of the ICRC has grown in importance, some experts said.
Beau Grosscup, professor of international relations at the University of California, told IPS, "This Republican effort makes sense only if one assumes that violating people's civil and human rights (including torture) is in U.S. interests."
"If so, it is true that those such as the ICRC who are upholding their mandate and mission by investigating and then publicising their findings of violation indeed are working against U.S. interests."
He added, "The vast majority of North Americans and the world's citizens think correcting a problem by exposing human rights violations is a positive endeavor."
While the ICRC has a longstanding tradition of confidentiality, passages from its reports criticising the treatment of prisoners in Iraq and Guantanamo appeared in the press last year.
The Senate report claims that the ICRC set out to "inaccurately and unfairly accuse the U.S. of not adhering to the Geneva Conventions."
Details also recently surfaced of a purported angry exchange between ICRC staff and the U.S. military, in which it is alleged an aid worker compared the U.S. soldiers to the Nazis.
And a confidential ICRC memorandum that appeared in the New York Times last November accused the U.S. military of tactics "tantamount to torture" on prisoners at Guantanamo Bay. The accusation was rejected by the Pentagon.
Kellenberger dismissed the charge. "Contrary to what is stated in the document, the ICRC has never compared U.S. soldiers to the Nazis and the ICRC has ever leaked to the public or the media any of the confidential reports submitted to the U.S. authorities," he said in a statement.
Meanwhile, the White House appeared to be distancing itself from the Senate report. A Bush administration official declined to endorse the findings of the report but said the administration had "concerns" about some positions taken by the ICRC since the U.S.-led invasions of Afghanistan in 2001 and Iraq in 2003.
"We need the ICRC. They do a lot of really good things," one of the U.S. officials told the Washington Post. "They've got people in conflict zones all over the world doing heroic things on a daily basis. Are we concerned about some of the comments? Yes. Do we deal with those in our confidential relationship? Yes. But we think the relationship works best when these things are kept confidential."
Another official said the administration had differences with the ICRC over the treatment of detainees and some other military issues, but that "we generally are able to work through them."
Asked whether Congress should get involved, the official told the newspaper, "The relationship has worked well without the involvement, and perhaps it should continue that way."
The Senate Republican Policy Committee, chaired by Sen. Jon Kyl of Arizona, has close ties to the Bush administration. Composed of GOP Senate leaders and the chairmen of the Senate's standing committees, it often distributes "talking points" for Republican senators that are coordinated with the White House. It says its role is helping to "shape the GOP game plan."
According to the GOP report, the ICRC made "no discernible effort" to improve the lot of American prisoners of war in Korea, Vietnam and Iraq, and "conspicuously failed to criticize" those governments for torture, killings and abuse of U.S. prisoners.
The ICRC is the only organization mandated by international treaty to monitor the observance of the Geneva Convention governing the treatment of prisoners, and it has the right to visit prisoners.
According to Kellenberger, "To be neutral doesn't mean putting all the actors of a conflict on the same level." He added, "You are not taking sides between parties to a conflict because you may lose access to detainees if one of the parties feels that you are not neutral."
But the GOP report charged that the group has exceeded the bounds of its mission by trying to "reinterpret and expand international law" in favour of terrorists and insurgents; lobbying for arms-control issues that are not within its mandate, such as a ban on the use of land mines; and "inaccurately and unfairly" accusing U.S. officials of not adhering to the Geneva Convention.
ICRC staff regularly visits prisoners held by the U.S. military in Iraq, as well as the hundreds of detainees in custody at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.
June 21, 2005 (http://www.albionmonitor.com) All Rights Reserved. Contact firstname.lastname@example.org for permission to use in any format.
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