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Pentagon Admits Number of Guantánamo’s Children is Higher than Originally Disclosed

Jennifer Turner,
Human Rights Researcher,
ACLU Human Rights Program
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November 17, 2008

An AP article today announced the Pentagon has admitted that 12 children under the age of 18 have been held at Guantánamo since it opened in 2002. The news report comes on the heels of a study released last week by the U.C. Davis Center for the Study of Human Rights in the Americas, showing that the U.S. has held at least 12 juveniles at Guantánamo.

These reports confirm what the ACLU has been saying for months: the U.S. government has been lowballing the number of children it has imprisoned at Guantánamo. In a submission to the U.N. Committee on the Rights of the Child in May, the U.S. claimed that eight juveniles have ever been held at the detention camp and only two prisoners currently at Guantánamo were children at the time of their transfer to the prison. Yet in an ACLU report we issued that same month, Soldiers of Misfortune, we said that prisoner lists released in response to Freedom of Information Act requests show the number is closer to 23, while some sources estimate the number of youth held at Guantánamo as high as 60.

At a U.N. review session in Geneva, the ACLU also pointed out that the U.S. had failed to count a third prisoner currently at Guantánamo, Mohammed El-Gharani (also known as Muhammed Al-Qarani), who was only 14 when first captured and has reportedly attempted suicide several times while in custody at Guantánamo. U.N. officials of the Committee on the Rights of the Child demanded that U.S. officials explain why discrepancies in the figures of child detainees may exist, pointing out that the U.S. had failed to count El-Gharani. The government delegation’s inadequate answer? It’s tough to determine the number of teens we’ve detained at the Navy base.

In July, the ACLU renewed calls for the U.S. to release accurate numbers for the children imprisoned at Guantánamo, after an attorney for the U.K. non-profit Reprieve said testimonies collected by the NGO, which represents 30 inmates at Guantánamo, indicate the actual number is much higher than 22.

As the number of children whom the U.S. owns up to detaining climbs higher, it is becoming crystal clear that there is no transparency in the government’s Guantánamo detention practices. And as the U.S. government’s past miscalculations of child prisoner statistics are revealed, it proves that there is a profound lack of accountability for Guantánamo policies, even when children are concerned.

Sadly, this is not the first time the Bush administration has misled a human rights body and deflected public and institutional scrutiny to avoid full accountability for its Guantánamo policies. But it is not too late to correct past wrongs: Delay the upcoming trials of two of the remaining detainees who have been held since they were juveniles and assess their eligibility for rehabilitation and reintegration into society. As alleged former child soldiers, the two detainees (Omar Khadr, who was captured when he was 15, and Mohamed Jawad, who was captured when he was 16 or 17), should be treated first and foremost as candidates for rehabilitation and reintegration into society, not subjected to further victimization.

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