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April 11, 2003
 
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Baghdad's Fall Makes Red Cross Job Harder
Fall of Baghdad Government Makes It Harder for Red Cross to Reach U.S. POWs

The Associated Press


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GENEVA April 11

The International Committee of the Red Cross said Friday it does not know where the seven U.S. prisoners of war are being held or even who in Iraq is responsible for them.

The fall of Baghdad and the disappearance of Saddam Hussein's government also means the ICRC is unable to negotiate for access to the soldiers, said ICRC spokesman Florian Westphal.

"At the moment we don't know exactly who is holding them," Westphal said. "The people we were talking to before can no longer be found. We don't know where they are."

The ICRC has been trying since the soldiers were captured three weeks ago to get access to them, but was unsuccessful even when Saddam was in power.

Under the Geneva Conventions signed by Iraq the neutral agency has the right to visit all prisoners of war to check on their well-being and to bring them messages from their families.

"We are fully aware of the impact this must have on their families back home," Westphal told The Associated Press. "While on the television they may be seeing scenes of jubilation and scenes of victory, they still don't know what the situation is with their missing loved ones."

Five of the U.S. POWs were shown on Iraqi television following their capture in an ambush March 23, but there has been no recent news of them.

They are Spc. Edgar Hernandez, 21; Spc. Joseph Hudson, 23; Spc. Shoshana Johnson, 30; Pfc. Patrick Miller, 23; and Sgt. James Riley, 31.

Last week U.S. forces rescued a sixth member of their unit, Pfc. Jessica Lynch, from a hospital in the city of Nasiriya, where they also recovered eight bodies of U.S. soldiers who'd been captured along with Lynch.

The two other POWs are Army Chief Warrant Officer Ronald D. Young Jr., 26; and Army Chief Warrant Officer David S. Williams, 30, who were captured March 24 when their Apache helicopter went down. Another 11 U.S. troops are listed as missing.

The U.S. military says prisoners of war captured by the Iraqis during the Gulf War in 1991 were mistreated, including being beaten and threatened.

Analysts suggest that Iraqi officials may have denied the ICRC access to the POWs, fearing coalition forces would be able to follow the delegates and launch another rescue raid.

Although the ICRC visits prisoners of war, responsibility for their care falls on the captors, according to the Geneva Conventions, which states they must be kept in conditions comparable to those of troops from the army detaining them.

They must be given food, shelter and health care free of charge, it says, and at the end of hostilities, they must be released.

So far, the ICRC has visited and registered 3,851 Iraqis being held by coalition forces. The United States says it has 7,300 Iraqis, while the British are detaining another 6,500. A detention facility for up to 24,000 POWs is being built in the southern Iraqi city of Umm Qasr.

The United States says it is treating its prisoners according to the Geneva Conventions. They are receiving food and medical care, and officials are arranging for them to be issued prayer rugs and copies of the Quran.

"In the morning they were given fruit, tea, some sundry items, bread. At night they get their rice. They get meat, vegetables, and a pretty decent broth," Army Col. John Della Jacono, deputy chief of staff of the coalition land forces, said in a telephone briefing from Umm Qasr, Iraq.

Although the ICRC presses captors to correct any failure to adhere to the Geneva Conventions, it never makes public comments on the conditions it finds in prisons and detention camps. The ICRC does say it is happy with the access it has received to the Iraqis held by coalition forces.

Copyright 2003 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

 
 
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