National Review Washington editor and CNN's The Capital Gang panelist Kate O'Beirne repeated the Wall Street Journal editorial board's distortions of a confidential International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) report on the treatment of detainees at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba. On the December 4 edition of The Capital Gang, O'Beirne falsely claimed that the ICRC "wants POW status conferred" on detainees and "objects to the centuries-old practice of holding enemy combatants until the end of hostilities."
As Media Matters for America has noted, Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld repeated the Journal's distortions in a December 2 editorial on the ICRC's report on Guantánamo detainees in an interview with FOX News Channel host Bill O'Reilly.
O'Beirne's claim that the ICRC "wants POW status conferred on an enemy who violates the Geneva Conventions by viciously waging war on civilians" echoes the Journal's statement that the ICRC is "demanding POW status for un-uniformed combatants who target civilians." In fact, the ICRC made clear in a 2003 report that it acknowledges a distinction between POWs and unlawful combatants and does not demand POW status for detainees captured in Afghanistan. Rather, the ICRC asserts that while these detainees may not be POWs as defined by the Third Geneva Convention ("Geneva Convention relative to the Treatment of Prisoners of War"), they still deserve more limited protections under the Fourth Geneva Convention ("Geneva Convention relative to the Protection of Civilian Persons in Time of War") and the First Additional Protocol to the Geneva Conventions.
The content of the confidential ICRC report, which was critical of the treatment of so-called "unlawful enemy combatants" held at Guantánamo and was given to the Bush administration in July, was first revealed in a November 30 New York Times article. The article noted the ICRC's concern about the mental health effects of indefinite detention. The Journal claimed that since the Geneva Conventions allow POWs to "be held for the duration of the conflict so that they do not return to the battlefield," the ICRC's concern about the detainees' mental health amounts to a demand that detainees be released before the end of the war against Al Qaeda. Similarly, O'Beirne falsely claimed that the ICRC "objects to the centuries-old practice of holding enemy combatants until the end of hostilities." But the Times article indicates no such assertion by the ICRC.
From the December 4 edition of The Capital Gang:
O'BEIRNE: Whoever thought we'd see the day that the International Red Cross played a destructive role in the quest for humane rules to govern the violent business of war? ... It objects to the centuries-old practice of holding enemy combatants until the end of hostilities and wants POW status conferred on an enemy who violates the Geneva Conventions by viciously waging war on civilians. Why exactly does the United States contribute $200 million a year to this left-wing interest group?