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Treatment of Young Prisoners and Detainees

Jamil Dakwar,
Director, ACLU Human Rights Program
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April 4, 2006

One of the cases before the military commission this week is the case of Omar Khadr, a Canadian citizen who was 15-year-old when he was detained in Bagram, Afghanistan in July 2002. He was transferred to Guantánamo in October 2002 and held without charges until November 2005. Omar was held for 40 months in solitary confinement, and according to his lawyers was subjected to torture and cruel, inhuman, and degrading treatment at the hands of U.S. military personnel in both Bagram and Guantánamo.

Despite his young age, Omar has been treated as an adult since his capture, even as other children detained by the U.S. have received educational programs and have been released. He is charged with “murder by an unprivileged belligerent” for his role in a firefight in an Afghan battlefield in which an American soldier was killed.

Coincidently, the Miami Herald just ran an investigative report on its front page about the systemic use of force by guards at the juvenile detention facility Boot Camp in Panama City, Florida. Based on official documents (use of force reports written by the guards themselves) released under Florida’s public record law, even though most of the reports cited “serious disruption” as the reason for the use of force, almost none of the youths actually behaved violently toward the camp guards.

This violation of juvenile human rights is not unique to Florida and Boot camp. It reflects a larger problem in many other U.S. juvenile detention facilities, as well as in many prisons and adult facilities across the nation. While Omar Khadr’s foot might not have stepped on U.S. soil, he and many other detainees in Guantánamo have been subjected to abusive interrogation methods and treatments that have also been reported at other U.S prisons and detention facilities.

The Taguba Report on the Abu Ghraib, for instance, found that military police guards lacked training in detention procedures and relied on personnel with civilian corrections experience to guide them.

There is some media interest in the military commission hearings and major news agencies have sent representatives to cover the resumption of the hearings, including the Saudi news agency and the U.S. funded Arabic-language TV station al Hura and radio Sawa.

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