RPC Policy Paper Targets International Red Cross

Posted June 15, 2005 at 6:53pm

Senate Republican Policy Committee Chairman Jon Kyl (Ariz.) is proposing retaliation against the International Committee of the Red Cross for the humanitarian organization’s recent willingness to criticize the United States’ handling of detainees in the war on terrorism.

But some Senators, including Foreign Relations Chairman Dick Lugar (R-Ind.), said that such a move is unwarranted and bad policy.

A June 13 RPC policy briefing paper, titled “Are American Interests Being Disserved by the International Committee of the Red Cross?” suggests that Congress and the Bush administration need to examine how the ICRC spends annual contributions given by the United States, its largest single contributor. The paper asks whether the ICRC “is advancing American interests.”

If the departments of State, Justice and Defense determine that the ICRC is not using its monies on traditional humanitarian activities, the U.S. Congress “should consider withholding part or all of the annual U.S. contribution to the ICRC’s headquarters,” the paper proposes.

The paper, written by RPC Policy Director for National Security Dan Fata, is intended to influence all 55 members of the Senate GOP Conference. It asserts that the ICRC “under its current leadership appears to have lost its way” and “clearly is in direct opposition to the advancement of U.S. interests.”

Kyl said the ICRC lost some of its credibility with the United States when it violated its own confidentiality clause on prison visits by revealing largely critical findings on the U.S.-run detention facility for suspected terrorists in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.

“If it’s losing its credibility, then we ought to take a look at it,” Kyl said.

In late 2004, an ICRC report calling conditions at Guantanamo Bay “cruel, inhumane and degrading” was leaked to the media, despite the organization’s longstanding pledge to share such reports only with government officials. Last month, a Red Cross spokesman acknowledged that the ICRC had informed the U.S. government about allegations that prison guards at Guantanamo mishandled the Koran, the holy book of Islam.

Kyl said the threat of losing funding from the United States could force the organization to reform itself and keep what he sees as its increasingly liberal bias in check.

“In order to get the attention of people to reform, we wanted to identify some options to provide incentives for the organization to reform itself,” Kyl said. The Arizona Senator said he did not have any current plans to turn the policy paper’s suggestions into legislation.

The proposal would only affect funding for the ICRC headquarters in Geneva, Switzerland, and the policy briefing specifically notes that “It would not be in the U.S. interest to withhold funding to the ICRC’s field operations,” including delivering humanitarian relief to victims of war and natural disasters.

Still, Lugar and Foreign Relations ranking member Joseph Biden (D-Del.) flatly ruled out suspending any funding for the ICRC.

“I would not be in favor of that,” Lugar said. “The Red Cross does a great job worldwide, and I continue to support it.”

Biden took issue with the RPC’s notion that the ICRC should somehow enhance U.S. interests.

“I thought we supported the International Red Cross to advance the interests of people in jeopardy … not to advocate the interests of the United States,” Biden said. “There’s no problem in taking issue with what they say. There’s no problem in chastising them [for taking policy positions], but to contemplate whether to help victims of tornados, hurricanes and whatever, seems to me to be inappropriate.”

Other Democrats also spoke out against the proposal.

“I’m sure problems exist in the Red Cross as they do in any other organizations, but what other organization is as reliable on humanitarian issues?” said Sen. Frank Lautenberg (D-N.J.). “To try to punish them in some way is outrageous.”

Other Senators from both parties appeared skeptical of the proposal, but declined to comment because they had not yet read the briefing paper.

A spokeswoman for Sen. Elizabeth Dole (R-N.C.), the former head of the American Red Cross, declined to comment. The American Red Cross is loosely affiliated with the ICRC but has no say in its governance or activities.

A spokeswoman for the American Red Cross also declined to comment.

The State Department gave the ICRC $128 million in fiscal 2004 and has given it $120.5 million so far in fiscal 2005, according to State Department spokeswoman Madge Caplis.

“As for the Senate proposal, we have seen it and are reviewing it,” Caplis said, declining to comment on whether the State Department would support reviewing the donations the U.S. gives to the ICRC as well as a proposal to have the State Department certify that the ICRC is “in full accord” with its stated mission.

In addition to the organization’s breach of confidentiality on the issue of Guantanamo Bay, the RPC also takes issue with the ICRC’s support for banning land mines and cluster bombs as well as its campaign to prevent soldiers, including the American military, from using tear gas on the battlefield.

The paper also takes the ICRC to task for not being aggressive in finding American prisoners of war from past conflicts in Korea, Vietnam and Iraq.

“For example, the ICRC’s Central Tracing Agency contains numerous U.S. government requests for information relative to individual POWs in North Vietnam that were not acted upon,” the paper notes.

The ICRC’s mission, as listed on its Web site, includes visiting prisoners of war, monitoring compliance with international humanitarian laws, contributing to the development of international humanitarian law, promoting respect for international humanitarian law, and providing food, water and medical help to refugees and others in need, among others. The ICRC is also the only organization mandated by international treaty to monitor the human rights of prisoners.

The RPC briefing also proposes that the Bush administration ask the ICRC to publicize all documents related to its core and non-core missions and push the ICRC to change its governing board to include non-Swiss officials. Currently, the ICRC’s governing bodies are controlled solely by Swiss nationals.