White House demands Red Cross visit for captured soldiers
April 1, 1999
WASHINGTON (CNN) -- A senior White House official told CNN Thursday that the United States has relayed through Sweden its demands that Yugoslavia treat three captured U.S. Army soldiers humanely and allow the International Committee of the Red Cross or other medical personnel to visit the men immediately.
President Clinton was told about midnight (0500 GMT) that NATO had confirmed the capture of the soldiers by Serb forces, the official said.
"We are thankful they are alive," the White House source said, adding that there are "indications that they have been mistreated very seriously."
The official apparently was referring to bruises on the faces of two of the captured men, when the soldiers appeared on Serb television Thursday.
The Pentagon identified the men as Staff Sgt. Andrew A. Ramirez, 24, of Los Angeles; Staff Sgt. Christopher J. Stone, 25, of Smiths Creek, Michigan; and Spc. Steven M. Gonzales, 24, of Huntsville, Texas. Stone is married and has one child.
All three are from the 4th Cavalry of the 1st Infantry Division, stationed in Schweinfurt, Germany.
White House aides said Clinton would comment Thursday about the captured men.
They said the president also planned to visit Norfolk Naval Station in Virginia on Thursday, as scheduled, to speak to military families about the risks involved in NATO's campaign in Yugoslavia and make a case for continuing the operation.
A senior Yugoslav source told CNN Correspondent Alessio Vinci in Belgrade that the men would be treated according to the 1949 Geneva Convention governing prisoners of war.
But Belgrade officials later said they do not consider the men prisoners of war, because Yugoslavia did not start the conflict and NATO has not declared war on the nation.
The Convention, however, covers prisoners of any armed conflict.
Representatives of the International Committee of the Red Cross should be allowed to visit the captured men under the terms of the Convention, said IRC President Louise Doswald Beck.
"I cannot tell you when such a visit would take place, but I can tell you it should take place," Beck said.
The Convention requires that prisoners of an armed conflict be treated humanely and that they be visited by the IRC to confirm their health and safety. The convention does not, however, specify when an IRC visit should take place, Beck said.
"What we do when we visit is ensure that their treatment is in accordance with the convention," she said.
Beck said the bruises on the faces of two of the captured men did not necessarily indicate a violation of the Geneva Convention.
"It depends, of course, on how they got such bruises," she said, explaining that if they were injured during their capture and not afterward it might not be a violation.
The Serb television broadcast of the three men, which showed them in their camouflage uniforms after their capture, was also not a clear violation of the Convention, Beck said.
"The convention says they must be protected against insults and public curiosity," she said.
The Yugoslav army reported that the men "were captured on Serb territory" Wednesday, but NATO officials said they were part of the NATO peacekeeping force in Macedonia.
NATO officials initially said the three were about three miles (five kilometers) inside Macedonia at the time of their capture, but NATO's top commander, U.S. Gen. Wesley Clark, later said their location was uncertain.
"The investigation is continuing in regard to the exact circumstances in which the captured men ended up in Yugoslavia," Clark said.
He said Yugoslav authorities will "be held accountable" for the welfare of the soldiers.
"We're very concerned about the safety and welfare of the three soldiers," Clark said. "We've all seen their pictures. We don't like it. We don't like the way they were treated, and we have a long memory."
Capt. John Clearwater, spokesman for the 1st Infantry Division, told CNN that the three men had trained for six months for the peacekeeping mission in Macedonia.
"They were observing the border (with Yugoslavia) and reporting on activities along the border," Clearwater said. "These men knew the terrain. Every indication that we've had is they were operating well within their boundaries (of Macedonia)."
Clearwater said the commander of the 1st Infantry Division was "taking this very seriously and personally putting in all efforts to make sure these soldiers are treated fairly."
U.S. Air Force personnel at Aviano Air Base in Italy were among those who watched the Serb television broadcast of the three captives, which was picked up by other TV stations and shown around the world.
"It was certainly a shocking way to start the day. I saw them bruised and battered and paraded on television," one airman said.
"My heart goes out to them, we're praying for them," another airman commented.
NATO deployed 12,000 troops in Macedonia as part of what was to be a peacekeeping force in Kosovo, under the terms of a peace agreement that Yugoslav President Slobodon Milosevic refused to sign.
Yugoslavia broke off diplomatic relations with the United States after the NATO airstrikes began last week. Sweden is acting as the official liaison between the two countries.
Three U.S. soldiers captured by Yugoslav army
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