U.S. military doctors drafted policies recommending detainees under the age of 18 be kept out of Guantanamo Bay or receive special treatment to "minimize psychological, emotional and physical harm" at a time when Canadian Omar Khadr was interrogated and held among adult detainees, a newly disclosed document reveals.
The January 2003 document recommends seven pages of treatment specific for "pediatric detainees," including the right to education, psychiatric evaluation and imprisonment out of "sight and sound" of adult detainees.
"All efforts should be made to keep those in the pediatric age range from undergoing detention at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba," the report states.
"People less than 18 years are emotionally, psychologically and physically dynamic and complex. If it is determined that they must be detained, then all aspects of their transport, in-processing, and detainment should be specific for this age group."
The document indicates for the first time the U.S. administration's recognition that "enemy combatants" under the age of 18 are entitled to special treatment. It was written by four military doctors and released to Khadr's defence team following a request for any directives concerning the treatment of minors at Guantanamo. Khadr's military lawyer, navy Lt.-Cmdr. Bill Kuebler, said it was the only material disclosed.
"The document shows that the U.S. government was aware of the legal requirements to afford children age-appropriate treatment," Kuebler said yesterday. "It flagrantly broke the law in its treatment of Omar Khadr, and is still doing so by subjecting him to trial by a military commission designed for adults."
There was no response from the military joint task force at Guantanamo or the Office of Military Commissions to the Toronto Star's questions by last night.
Toronto-born Khadr was shot and captured at the age of 15 following a firefight in Afghanistan. The Pentagon alleges Khadr threw a grenade during the July 27, 2002 firefight that fatally wounded Delta Force soldier Christopher Speer.
After more than 40 interrogation sessions at the U.S. base in Bagram, he was transferred to Guantanamo where he has been held since. Khadr told his lawyers that during his first few years he was abused, threatened with rape, and once used as a "human mop" after urinating on himself while hog-tied.
His detention was in stark contrast to the treatment of three Afghan prisoners under the age of 16, who were held in "Camp Iguana" where they watched movies, were taught English and lived in comfortable accommodations. When they were released in 2004, the Pentagon issued a press release that stated while "age is not a determining factor in detention ... every effort was made to provide the juvenile detainees a secure environment free from the influences of the older detainees, as well as providing for their special physical and emotional case."
Khadr had turned 16 while detained in Bagram. He is expected to go on trial this year for five war crimes, including a charge of murder for Speer's death. Kuebler lost a bid to have the charges dismissed because of Khadr's age - arguing that prosecuting a 15-year-old for war crimes violated international treaties that called for the rehabilitation of child soldiers. In dismissing the application, the military judge sided with the prosecution's assertion that the Military Commissions Act - which came into effect in 2006 and under which Khadr is charged - does not set a minimum age of prosecution.
While Khadr's age does not seem to be an impediment now to his trial, it has become a political flashpoint in Canada and abroad.
Liberal Senator RomÃƒ©o Dallaire, whose experience as the former UN commander in Rwanda has made him an advocate for the rights of child soldiers, has vowed to "harass" the Canadian government until they demand Khadr be repatriated. Liberal Leader StÃƒ©phane Dion has also backed calls for the Prime Minister to personally intervene.
The UN Committee on the Rights of the Child meets in Geneva today to question whether the U.S. is in compliance with an international treaty governing the rights of children captured in armed conflict and it's expected Khadr's case will be raised.
Meanwhile, Khadr is about to find out whether he'll get access to Canadian government documents to help defend himself. A judgment from the Supreme Court of Canada is due tomorrow.
© 2008 The Toronto Star