Yemeni Detainees at Guantanamo Receive Video Call Service

International Red Cross extends teleconference service to Yemenis at Gitmo.

December 29, 2010, 4:02 PM

Dec. 30, 2010— -- Dozens of Yemeni men imprisoned at a U.S. military base in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, can now video teleconference with their family members abroad.

The new service, sponsored by the International Committee of the Red Cross and launched earlier this month, provides many detainees the first face-to-face contact with relatives since their detention nearly a decade ago.

The teleconferences also come as the Obama administration considers an executive order to hold some detainees indefinitely.

"Because of the length of their detention at Guantanamo, we've been pushing for this service," said ICRC spokesman Simon Schorno. "And we have the full support of the [U.S.] authorities."

Previously, the men could communicate only through sending paper messages or occasional telephone calls transmitted through the Red Cross.

The video calls can last up to an hour and could occur once every three months, whenever the ICRC visits the facility.

"We go around and ask who's interested in taking part in the calls and then arrange the logistics," Schorno said.

The opportunity to speak in person is viewed as a humanitarian gesture, Schorno said, and can improve the mental health of detainees and help create a more secure environment from the perspective of military officials.

"To have a detainee a little more relaxed because he spoke to his wife is a good thing," said Schorno. "Does it mean the indefinite detention is more bearable because of this? I wouldn't go that far."

A Pentagon spokesman did not respond to ABC News' request for comment.

The video calls are not the first for Guantanamo detainees. One year ago, ICRC extended the service to men from Afghanistan and Pakistan.

Four families from the Yemeni capital of Sana'a have participated in video calls to Guantanamo, according to Schorno. Others have connected from the southern city of Aden.

Military Censors Detainee Video Calls

The video teleconferences take place in a small room on the Guantanamo Bay military base, where the communications are censored by authorities to mitigate risks, Schorno said.

"On the receiving end is where it's not always easy," he said. Families sometimes travel from remote regions and need permission from local authorities to accept the calls.

ICRC pays the travel and accommodation costs for many of the families who choose to participate in the calls.

Prisoners from Yemen are the largest group among the more than 150 detainees left at Guantanamo. Ninety Yemeni nationals remain in U.S. custody.

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