Rights Group Demands Release or Charges for 3 Youths Held at Guantanamo Bay
Wednesday 23 April 2003
SAN JUAN, Puerto Rico - The human rights group Amnesty International urged the United States on Wednesday to immediately release or charge three youths 16 and younger who are being held in the U.S. detention camp at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.
The military confirmed on Tuesday that the three youths are among about 660 detainees from 42 countries held at Guantanamo Bay on suspicion of having links to the al-Qaida terrorist network or the ousted Afghan Taliban regime.
"Amnesty International is deeply disturbed that the U.S., under the assumption that they are 'enemy combatants,' is holding children at Guantanamo Bay," William Schulz, executive director of Amnesty International USA, said in a statement. "The detention of children in these circumstances is particularly repugnant and flouts basic principles for the protection of children under international law."
If the U.S. military will not release the children, they should be formally charged, provided with judicial safeguards applying to youthful offenders and transferred to a juvenile detention facility, the London-based rights group said.
It was not known if one of the three teens being interrogated includes Toronto-born Omar Khadr, 16, who is being held in Guantanamo after being captured by U.S. Special Forces on July 27 near Khost, where he was taking part in small arms and explosives training at an al-Qaida compound. Before being taken prisoner, the teen allegedly threw a grenade that killed a U.S. medic.
Asked whether Khadr is among the youths being interrogated by the U.S. military in Cuba, Foreign Affairs spokesman Reynald Doiron said Wednesday from Ottawa that his department "would not comment on this, on whether it is taking place or not."
However, The Globe and Mail reported last week that U.S. officials would want to interrogate the Canadian because his father has been identified as a senior financial leader of al-Qaida.
Khadr is the son of Ahmed Said Khadr, an Egyptian-born Canadian citizen arrested in Pakistan in 1995 after a bombing of the Egyptian embassy in Islamabad. He was later released. During the 1990s, the Khadr family raised money at Canadian mosques, saying it would go toward war orphans. But intelligence agencies believe the elder Khadr was secretly running money to bin Laden and that he funded the 1995 bombing.
Lt. Col. Barry Johnson, chief spokesman for the Guantanamo mission, said the youths are in a "communal setting" separate from adult detainees' individual cells, but all were "captured as active combatants against U.S. forces" and are considered enemy combatants.
"We are treating them differently . . . because as juveniles we recognize they have special needs," he said.
Johnson would not give the age of the youngest detainee nor say how many there were, only "very few." However an official at the camp who spoke on condition of anonymity Wednesday said there were three of them.
Schulz said reports the youths are being interrogated is especially disturbing.
Johnson said juveniles are being held because "they have potential to provide important information in the ongoing war on terrorism." They, like other detainees, could be released if it is determined they no longer pose a threat, he said.
U.S. officials say detainees receive between one and six 15-minute exercise periods a week, depending on behaviour. Otherwise, they are confined to individual steel cells.
Amnesty International said such conditions "can amount to cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment," but are "particularly shocking" when applied to juveniles.
Johnson said all the juveniles had arrived at Guantanamo since Jan. 1. The camp received its first terror suspects in January 2001.
Human rights groups long have criticized the United States for holding the detainees without charge and interrogating them while they are not allowed access to lawyers.
Diplomatic sources have said that Canadian authorities had been granted access to Omar Khadr, but only so RCMP counter-intelligence experts and intelligence officials could question him about his family's alleged terrorist connections - not to conduct a consular visit to check on his well-being and legal status.
Doiron would not confirm whether Canadian police or intelligence authorities had interviewed Khadr, but he said a Foreign Affairs official had seen the teen - "in the first and only visit" in mid-February - and reported that "Omar looked well to him."
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