U.N. Grills U.S. on Detention of Accused Child Soldiers in Iraq and Guantánamo

Today here at the United Nations headquarters in Geneva, the U.N. Committee on the Rights of the Child reviewed the United States for its compliance with the Optional Protocol on the Involvement of Children in Armed Conflict. Ratified by the U.S. in 2002, the Optional Protocol lays out guidelines for the treatment of former child soldiers in U.S. custody and establishes the U.S.'s minimum obligations to protect children under 18 from military recruitment. Twenty-two U.S. officials, including Department of Defense officials overseeing Detainee Affairs, reported to the U.N. Committee during a public review session today.

U.N. officials questioned the U.S. delegation on the basis of "shadow reports" submitted by the ACLU and two other groups, as well as two official reports submitted by the U.S. delegation. A report the U.S. submitted last week contained the explosive revelation that the U.S. has detained 2,500 children under 18 in U.S.-run detention facilities in Iraq and Afghanistan, including 513 children currently imprisoned in U.S. detention facilities in Iraq alone.

These revelations and other information disclosed in the shadow reports prompted clear concern among the U.N. Committee members, who pointedly told U.S. officials they were concerned about the detention of children in Iraq and Afghanistan, the prosecution of former child soldiers at Guantánamo, and the abusive military recruitment of youth. The Committee pulled no punches, and were extremely forceful with the U.S. delegation, cutting them off when they digressed, pushing them repeatedly on issues, and generally expressing its displeasure with the U.S. record on children in armed conflict.

In particular, the U.N. officials pushed the United States to clarify how it has determined that only eight children have ever been detained at Guantánamo, and it questioned the U.S. on its claims that only two prisoners currently at Guantánamo were children at the time of their transfer to the prison. U.N. Committee members demanded to know why discrepancies in the figures of child detainees may exist (reports claim as many as 60 children have been transferred to Guantánamo since 2002), pointing out that the U.S. had failed to count a third prisoner currently out Guantánamo, Mohammed El-Gharani, who was only 14 when first captured and has reportedly attempted suicide seven times at Guantánamo. U.S. officials demurred, claiming that it is difficult to ascertain prisoners' ages and that Department of Defense records indicated El-Gharani was an adult. Committee members asked how it was that the U.S. was unaware that a child was in its custody, and expressed shock that the U.S. did not give these former child prisoners the benefit of the doubt, accepting in good faith their claims they were children, instead of current practice of leaving these children imprisoned until they became adults while in Guantánamo. U.S. officials vowed to look into the case of Mohammed El-Gharani, and provided no satisfactory explanation.

The U.N. Committee on the Rights of the Child also questioned the U.S. on its detention of children in Iraq and Afghanistan. The U.S. was detaining 800 children in U.S. detention facilities in Iraq back in September 2007, and following the troop surge in Iraq, the U.S. was detaining 100 new children per month in 2007. The Committee observed that children detained at U.S.-run facilities in Iraq are treated just as adults are, without distinction demanded by international law requiring special consideration to children, and in some cases these children do not receive health and education services, without competent judicial review. The Committee questioned the U.S. about limits on the detention of children in Iraq and Afghanistan, which can be as long as a year without charge or access to an attorney, and in some cases even longer than a year —so long that, in some cases, the Committee noted, the children become adults while languishing in detention.

U.N. officials also grilled the U.S. delegation on U.S. military recruitment policies and abusive recruitment practices that target children under 18. Referencing JROTC cadet corps in which over 470,000 high school students are enrolled and the unprecedented access to public schools guaranteed to recruiters by the No Child Left Behind Act (PDF), one Committee member observed, "Using our education system to promote a military agenda seems to fly in the face of the spirit of the Optional Protocol." Committee members repeatedly expressed concern about the military's targeting of children of racial minorities and low-income youth, an issue the U.S. delegation never addressed in its replies to the Committee. U.N. officials also observed that there are numerous reports of aggressive and coercive recruitment practices and asked where the U.S. draws the line, as some well-documented tactics ought to be off limits.

All in all, it was a forceful demonstration of the U.N.'s disapproval of the U.S.'s policies, bookended by a polite opening and closing of the session. It was clear from the review today that the United States stands alone in some of its detention and recruitment policies. It remains to be seen whether the U.S. is capable of embarrassment and will respond to the strong disapproval and, in some cases, shock, over the U.S.'s deplorable record on these issues, by instituting real reforms. Until then, the U.S. stands apart in its failure to respect basic children's rights standards.

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Why is the protocol called Optional if you ASSume it is not Optional? JROTC has been in the High Schools of America forever. Why is it bad now? What, specifically, are these "abusive recruitment practices"? I don't recall any news reports on anyone being forced into JROTC. Where are these " ... numerous reports of aggressive and coercive recruitment practices?" What IS an aggressive and coercive recruitment practice? And what has any military recruitment in the US have to do with civil liberties in the US?
Finally, why do I think this is all left wingnut BS?

William Gruzenski

Didn't you ever hear of Hitler???


Other reports on the UN session with the U.S. government suggest that the Committee, while critical at times, was far less combative than you suggest, and by no means was intending to embarrass the U.S. Also, while it is certainly true that the U.S. should improve its performance with respect to detention of children, your statement that "[i]t was clear from the review today that the United States stands alone in some of its detention and recruitment policies" is a great exaggeration. While not excusing U.S. practices, it hardly stands alone in its involvement of minors in armed conflict (moreover, my understanding is the Committee only reviewed the U.S. on that day and not every country, so it's not clear how you can make this statement, unless the Committee reviewed all countries that day, which I don't believe occurred).
This report is helpful, though its usefulness is reduced somewhat by rhetoric in places that doesn't do justice to the general aims and practices of U.N. treaty bodies or the realities of this situation in particular. As such, the important facts you do convey get submerged by the inaccurate rhetoric.


The US isn't breaking the optional protocol at all, I read it.

This is similiar to what the same UN group just reported on Sri Lanka.

The UN Human Rights Commission is abusing human rights by attempting to take away the rights of citizens to self determination and government in this and other areas.

Unless they have more then the ACLU reports, Human Rights Watch reports, and have real facts they should do something that really helps.

Like maybe start doing something about terrorist groups which recruit children and do put them into direct combat.


What does anyone at the aclu know about jrotc? i was a member for 4 years and gained knowledge and discipline that no other program out there (including boy scouts) can give young men and women.I never had any pressure to join the military nor did any military recruiter ever come to class. the Aclu should stick with the issues they have some vague knowledge of.


Mr President, I strongly urge you to veto the NDAA Bill until the pvsiioron of indefinite detention of American cisterns is removed. I feel this Bill is a repeal of the 6th ammendment in the Bill of Rights. Do America proud, and do not take our civil liberties from us they are all that we have. Best wishes, Jared.

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