Tuesday, May 20, 2008

U.S. Says It Is Holding 500 Youths in Iraq

New York Times

The American military is holding about 500 juveniles in detention centers in Iraq and has about 10 detained at the military base at Bagram, Afghanistan, the United States has told the United Nations.

A total of 2,500 people under the age of 18, almost all in Iraq, have been detained for periods of up to a year or more since 2002, the United States reported last week to the United Nations Committee on the Rights of the Child. Most are believed to be 16 or 17.

Civil liberties groups like the International Justice Network and the American Civil Liberties Union denounced the detentions as a violation of treaty obligations.The United States confirmed a periodic report on its compliance with the Convention on the Rights of the Child that “as of April 2008, the United States held about 500 juveniles in Iraq.”

“The juveniles that the United States has detained have been captured engaging in anticoalition activity, such as planting improvised explosive devices, operating as lookouts for insurgents or actively engaged in fighting against U.S. and coalition forces,” the report said.

The report said that of the 2,500 juveniles jailed since 2002, all but 100 had been picked up in Iraq. Of the remainder, most were in Afghanistan. The report also says it has held eight juveniles, ages 13 to 17, at its detention center at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba.

“It remains uncertain the exact age of these individuals, as most of them did not know their date of birth or even the year they were born,” the report says. But military doctors who evaluated them believed that three were under age 16. Six were released, and two are now adults facing war-crimes charges.

A Canadian, Omar Khadr, now 21, was captured in July 2002 and is charged with murder. He is accused of throwing a grenade that killed an American Special Forces soldier. Mohammed Jawad, an Afghan who the military says is about 23, faces charges of attempted murder in connection with a 2002 grenade attack that wounded two American soldiers.

The American report pointed out, “Although age is not a determining factor in whether or not we detain an individual under the law of armed conflict, we go to great lengths to attend to the special needs of juveniles while they are in detention.”

In Bagram, a military spokesman, First Lt. Richard K. Ulsh of the Marines, said on Sunday, “There are no detainees being held under the age of 16, and, without getting into specifics due to the frequent fluctuation in the number of detainees being held, we can tell you that there are currently less than 10 detainees being held under the age of 18.”

Jamil Dakwar, director of the A.C.L.U.’s Human Rights Program, released a statement expressing his dismay.

“It is shocking to know that the U.S. is holding hundreds of juveniles in Iraq and Afghanistan, and even more disturbing that there is no comprehensive policy in place that will protect their rights as children,” it said.

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