Under-18s held at Guantánamo, says UK lawyer
June 14, 2005
Five men who were juveniles when captured by US forces were held at Guantánamo Bay while they were under 18, despite statements by the Pentagon to the contrary, a lawyer who visited the prison has claimed.
The US military has admitted in the past to holding three Afghan juveniles in a special camp called Iguana, but said it had released them.
In a January 2004 BBC interview a Pentagon spokesperson said no juveniles were held at Guantánamo, where over 500 Muslim men are detained without charge or trial in conditions that have provoked worldwide concern.
But British lawyer Clive Stafford-Smith, who returned from visiting clients in Guantánamo last week, claims that at least five people held there were taken to the camp after being arrested, despite being under 18 at the time.
One youth, 14 when detained in October 2001 in Pakistan, is still in US custody three-and-a-half years later.
The youth, known as Muhammad, a Saudi originally from Chad, alleges being subjected to torture, including being suspended by his wrists and burnt with cigarettes.
Mr Stafford-Smith said: "The treatment of adults in Guantánamo Bay is shocking enough. To see a juvenile being held in the worst camp, Camp Five, numbs me.
"He is held in solitary, allowed one hour of recreation a week, and he is not allowed any education or books of any sort.
"He has scars on his arm, he says caused by interrogators burning him with a cigarette, and prisoners are not allowed cigarettes. They have been abusing him on a daily basis.
"International law is clear that you have to treat juveniles differently."
The debate about the future of the camp has intensified in recent weeks amid reports that the Bush administration may be considering closing it.
In an interview shown on Fox News last night, the vice president, Dick Cheney, defended the camp. "The important thing here to understand is that the people that are at Guantánamo are bad people.
"I mean, these are terrorists for the most part. These are people that were captured in the battlefield of Afghanistan or rounded up as part of the al-Qaida network."
According to papers just declassified by the US military, Muhammad was suspected at one stage of being the brother of former British detainee Feroz Abassi. According to Mr Stafford-Smith, "the passing resemblance is limited solely to the fact that they are both African".
The US military was unable to comment.
This week a key senate committee will begin hearings on Guantánamo, amid concern voiced by senators, including one Republican, that the persistent allegations of ill-treatment there are damaging the US's image abroad. Amnesty International branded Guantánamo the "gulag" of our time in its latest annual report, a claim Mr Bush angrily denied.
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