Published on Wednesday, April 23, 2003 by the Guardian/UK
US Detains Children at Guantanamo Bay
The US military has admitted that children aged 16 years and younger are among the detainees being interrogated at its prison camp in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.
Lieutenant Colonel Barry Johnson, a US military spokesman, yesterday said all the teenagers being held were "captured as active combatants against US forces", and described them as "enemy combatants".
The children, some of whom have been held at Guantanamo for over a year, are imprisoned in separate cells from the adult detainees, Lt Col Johnson said. He would say only that the teenagers are "very few, a very small number" and would not say how old the youngest prisoner is.
The US military confirmed their presence yesterday after Australia's ABC television reported that children were being held at Guantanamo, the controversial detention center where prisoners from the war in Afghanistan have been held by the US, in breach of the Geneva conventions, for over a year.
The news sparked outrage from human rights groups already campaigning against the indefinite detention of the roughly 660 males from 42 countries, held on suspicion of having links to al-Qaida or Afghanistan's ousted Taliban regime. They have not been charged or allowed access to lawyers.
"That the US sees nothing wrong with holding children at Guantanamo and interrogating them is a shocking indicator of how cavalier the Bush administration has become about respecting human rights," said an Amnesty International spokesman, Alistair Hodgett.
Human Rights Watch said the US was exacerbating a contentious situation. "[The detention of youths] reflects our broader concerns that the US never properly determined the legal status of those held in the conflict," said James Ross, legal adviser for Human Rights Watch in New York.
Lt Col Johnson said the juveniles were being held because "they have potential to provide important information in the ongoing war on terrorism".
"Their release is contingent on the determination that they are not a threat to the [US] nation and have no further intelligence value."
Lt Col Johnson said officials determined that some detainees were younger than 16 during medical and other screenings after their arrival in Cuba. He added that all the prisoners aged under 16 years were brought to Guantanamo after January 1 2002 - suggesting that some were 15 or younger when they were first imprisoned.
In September 2002, Canadian officials reported that a 15-year-old Canadian had been captured on July 27 after being badly wounded in a firefight in eastern Afghanistan. Canada's prime minister, Jean Chrétien said he was seeking consular access to the boy.
Last week, Toronto's Globe and Mail newspaper reported that the youth, now 16, is being held in Guantanamo and that US officials have refused access to Canadian officials.
The newspaper quoted unidentified sources as saying that the youth allegedly threw a grenade that killed Sergeant 1st Class Christopher James Speer, 28, of Albuquerque, New Mexico.
The Globe and Mail said US officials would want to interrogate the Canadian because his father has been identified as a senior financial leader of al-Qaida.
Lawyers have blamed the indefinite detentions for increasing depression and suicide attempts at the camp, which received the first detainees in January 2001.
According to the US military, there have been 25 suicide attempts by 17 prisoners at Camp X-Ray, with 15 attempts made this year.
Just this Monday the US military announced that one prisoner, who it said was under supervision in the acute care unit of a new mental health ward, made a repeated suicide attempt.
© Guardian Newspapers Limited 2003