(Washington, DC) Congressman Alcee L. Hastings (D-Miramar) withdrew an amendment to the National Defense Authorization Act for the Fiscal Year 2011 that would have authorized the International Committee of the Red Cross to access detained individuals under United States control. (SEE AMENDMENT)
“Although I believe this amendment would bring much-needed transparency and accountability to our human rights policy, particularly as it pertains to the issue of detaining suspected terrorists, the toxic political environment has forced me to withdraw this amendment,” Hastings said. “It has been made clear to me that to push for this matter will invite heated opposition from Members who think that complying with international human rights law is somehow bad for our national security.”
On January 22, 2009, President Obama signed an Executive Order pertaining to lawful interrogation of individuals in United States custody. In that Order, the President included language enabling the Red Cross to access detainees held under U.S. control.
Hastings’ amendment follows the language of that Order with one important change. The Executive Order specifies that the Red Cross will have access to detainees pursuant to Department of Defense regulations. The amendment simply removes that clause so that Red Cross access is assured in accordance with international human rights agreements like the Geneva Conventions.
“Limiting the Red Cross’ access to Department of Defense policies is problematic for two reasons,” explained Hastings. “The present language leaves the Red Cross and detainees at the mercy of defense policies which can change over time. Second, it signals to other countries that the United States isn’t willing to comply with the Geneva Conventions and other international agreements.”
The Red Cross has a permanent mandate under international law to take impartial action for prisoners, the wounded and sick, and civilians affected by conflict.
“Whether we’re talking about stripping citizenship from suspects or denying basic civil liberties on the basis of accusations of terrorism, we are failing to understand that one of the single best ways we can combat terrorism and its ideologies is by upholding the very human rights laws we profess to care about,” said Hastings. “This means allowing the Red Cross to access each and every detainee under United States control wherever they are held in the world.
“This Congress is going to have to realize that we need sensible, effective, and legal solutions for the problems of detainment,” Hastings further noted. “We cannot simply cede all the authority in this matter to the Executive Branch.
“My hope is that we can begin by establishing policies on things we can all agree on, such as Red Cross access to detainees under United States control.”
Congressman Alcee L. Hastings is Vice Chairman of the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence, a senior member of the House Rules Committee, and Co-Chairman of the U.S. Helsinki Commission.