Published on Friday, February 6, 2009 by Inter Press Service
The Children of
by William Fisher
Since the iconic detention centre in
Former Vice President Dick Cheney, Defence Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, and many other senior George W. Bush administration officials have repeatedly described all the
Two "child soldier" cases in particular are being highlighted by human rights advocates.
Mohammed el-Gharani, a Chadian national and Saudi resident, was just 14 years old when he was seized by Pakistani forces in October 2001, in a raid on a mosque in
El-Gharani's defence lawyers charge he was treated with appalling brutality. They say that, after being tortured in Pakistani custody, he was sold to U.S. forces, who flew him to a prison at Kandahar airport, where, he said, one particular soldier "would hold my penis, with scissors, and say he'd cut it off".
They claim his treatment did not improve in Guantánamo. Subjected relentlessly to racist abuse, because of the colour of his skin, he was hung from his wrists on numerous occasions, and was also subjected to a regime of "enhanced" techniques to prepare him for interrogation - including prolonged sleep deprivation, prolonged isolation and the use of painful stress positions - that clearly constitute torture.
As a result of this and other abuse, including regular beatings by the guard force responsible for quelling even the most minor infractions of the rules, el-Gharani became deeply depressed, and tried to commit suicide on several occasions.
But last month, just days before President Barack Obama's inauguration, a federal judge, Richard Leon, ruled that the government had not proven that el-Gharani was an enemy combatant and said he must be released and sent home "forthwith". Judge
Over the past month, federal judges in
The Bush administration had said that el-Gharani had stayed in an al Qaeda guest house in
The other "child soldier" still at Gitmo is Omar Khadr. He was taken into custody in
Khadr was born in
But according to lawyers who were present at the hearing, the case against him was unraveling as the trial proceeded. Unintentionally released
One of the lawyers said, "There was little expectation that the mere failure to prove its case would cause the prosecution much trouble. A verdict of 'guilty' was almost assumed."
Gabor Rona, international legal director for Human Rights First, told IPS that Khadr's case "should be dismissed in its entirety". He pointed out that Khadr was 15 years old at the time he was taken into custody.
"If his trial proceeds - and no matter in what forum it proceeds - it will be the first instance of a child soldier being prosecuted in a U.S. court for conduct in wartime. This would be contrary to international legal principles, which counsel rehabilitation and protection, rather than punishment of, child soldiers," Rona said.
He added, "The conduct with which he is charged - defending against an attack by American soldiers - is not a crime under the laws of war. Prosecution an individual for conduct that was not a legal violation at the time of its commission is, itself, a war crime in international law, as well as a violation of the
Canada's Prime Minister Stephen Harper has steadfastly refused to intervene in the Kadr case, and has declined to seek extradition to
"Whether this will happen and if so, under what conditions, is uncertain," he said.
According to recent reliable polling, 64 percent of Canadians have expressed the desire to have Kadr returned to Canada, and international and domestic organisations such as Amnesty International and the Canadian Bar Association have pressed the Conservative minority government to bring Kadr home.
Rona told IPS, "The issue of child soldiers is notable mainly when Western societies take umbrage about the recruitment of adolescents to fight in civil wars. The outrage curiously subsides when the child is one of our own, 'recruited' in this case by his father, a notorious al Qaeda sympathiser. Prime Minister Harper, however, appears deaf to the entreaties of UNICEF and other advocates for children."
He added, "As Americans contemplate a decade of abuse of their Constitution and increasingly urge that Mr. Bush and his associates be held accountable for their illegal actions at home and abroad, Canadians should also hold Mr. Harper accountable for trampling on the rights of one of his fellow-citizens."
Copyright © 2009 IPS-Inter Press Service
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"The master class has always declared the wars; the subject class has always fought the battles. The master class has had all to gain and nothing to lose, while the subject class has had nothing to gain and everything to lose--especially their lives." Eugene Victor Debs