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Guantánamo's Children: Military and Diplomatic Testimonies

camp_iguana.jpg

Camp Iguana,  the facility where a few of Guan-
tánamo's children were once imprisoned. Photo:
The Miami Herald.

 
For the purposes of the present Convention, a child means
every human being below the age of eighteen years unless
under the law applicable to the child,  majority  is attained
earlier
(UN Convention on the Rights of the Child, Article 1)

On April 25, 2003, Secretary of State Donald Rumsfeld and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff General Richard Myers held a news briefing at the Pentagon. At that briefing, Secretary Rumsfeld was asked about the juveniles in Guantanamo. Rumsfeld took the opportunity to complain about "this constant refrain of the juveniles, as though there's a hundred of children [sic] in there". Secretary Rumsfeld's complaint raises a very good question. Exactly how many children have been seized and taken to Guantánamo?

 

1. Eleven Children Recognized by the Department of Defense


Two documents released by the U.S. Department of Defense identify 11 Guantánamo prisoners that were under the age of 18 at the time they were seized. These documents are:

The first of these documents provides dates of birth for these prisoners; the second presents in-processing dates for many of them. The following table summarizes the information gathered from these two sources. Here DD and MMM stand, respectively, for day and month unknown.1

NAME
ISN
DATE OF BIRTH
IN-PROCESSING DATE
IN-PROCESSING AGE
ABDUL QUDUS 0929 DD MMM 88 07 FEB 02 13 - 14
ASSAD ULLAH 0912 DD MMM 88 23 MAR 03 14 - 15
NAQIB ULLAH
0913 DD MMM 88
07 FEB 03
14 - 15
MOHAMMED OMAR
0540
DD MMM 86
12 JUN 02
15 - 16
MUHAMMED HAMID AL QARANI
0269
DD MMM 86
09 FEB 02
15 - 16
SHAMS ULLAH 0783 DD MMM 86 28 OCT 02 15 - 16
OMAR AHMED KHADR 0766 19 SEPT 86 28 OCT 02 16
YUSSEF MOHAMMED MUBARAK AL SHIHRI 0114 08 SEPT 85
16 JAN 02
16
MOHAMED JAWAD 0900 DD MMM 85 18 DEC 02 16 - 17
YASSER TALAL AL ZAHRANI
0093
22 SEPT 84
21 JAN 02
17
ABDUL SALAM GHETAN
0132
14  DEC  84
17 JAN 02
17

The fact that two of these prisoners were seized as children was also acknowledged by the State Department. Indeed, in its response to a question from the United Nations Committee on the Rights of the Child, the State Department stated that

Mr. [Omar] Khadr and Mr. [Mohamed] Jawad are currently the only two individuals captured under the age of 18 that the U.S. Government has chosen to prosecute under the Military Commissions Act of 2006 (See United States Written Response to Questions Posed by the Committee on the Rights of the Child, Answer to Question 12(c)).

Also consistent with these claims are the results of a bone scan analysis cited at Mr. Jawad's trial by military commission (see United States of America vs. Mohammed Jawad, D-012 Ruling on Defense Motion to Dismiss--Lack of Personal Jurisdiction: Child Soldier). In-processed in Afghanistan on December 18, 2002, Mohamed Jawad was subsequently transferred to Guantánamo on or about February 6, 2003 (see D-012 Ruling cited above).

 

2. Mohammed Ismail: A Twelfth Child Recognized by Military Officials

 
On February 2003, Lt. Col. Larry C. James, chief Guantánamo psychologist, flew to Afghanistan to bring three boys to the base. There they were held in Camp Iguana, a facility built especially for them in order to segregate them from the adult population of the prison (Fixing Hell, pp. 34-49). According to Captain James Yee, the Muslim chaplain who tended to the religious instruction of the Camp Iguana inmates, their first names were Assadulah, Naqibullah, and Ismail (For God and Country, pp. 93-96).2

The three boys remained in Guantánamo "for about a year" (Fixing Hell, 66). Then, on January 29, 2004, the Department of Defense announced that three children had been released from Guantánamo, where they were "housed in a separate facility modified to meet the special needs of juveniles" (see Department of Defense News Release 057-04).

On February 7, 2004 the Guardian published an article identifying these children as Assad Ullah, Naqib Ullah, and Mohammed Ismail. The first two of these children are included in the table in Section 1; the third one is not. Consequently, we can identify a twelfth Guantánamo prisoner that was captured as a minor. He is Mohammed Ismail.

Independent confirmation for this identification is provided by the fact that both Mohammed Ismail and Naqib Ullah were in-processed on 07 FEB 03 (both Lt. Col. James and Capt. Yee write that Naqib Ullah and Ismail arrived on the same day).

If Mohammed Ismail was seized as a juvenile in 2003, then he could not have been born in 1984, as the Departement of Defense claims in its 2006 list of prisoners; Mohammed Ismail must have been born later.

In its January 29, 2004 announcement of the release of the children, the Department of Defense indicated that medical tests performed after they were seized determined that "all three juveniles were under the age of 16". Consequently, the date of birth for Mohammed Ismail given in the DoD list of prisoners must be amended to read "after 07 FEB 87", which would be the date of his 16th birthday.

 

3. How Many Children Have Been Seized and Taken to Guantánamo?


On May 13, 2008, the U.S. State Department answered in writing, through its Bureau of Democracy Human Rights and Labor, a questionnaire from the United Nations Committee on the Rights of the Child. In its answer to this questionnaire, the Bureau wrote that

In the entirety of its existence, the Guantanamo Bay detention facility has held no more than eight juveniles, their ages ranging from 13 to 17 at the time of their capture (See United States Written Response to Questions Posed by the Committee on the Rights of the Child, Answer to Question 12(a)).

Yet, in light of the discussion above, the Guantánamo Bay detention facility has held no less than 12 individuals, their ages ranging from 13 to 17 at the time of their seizure. They are listed in the table below.

NAME
ISN
DATE OF BIRTH
IN-PROCESSING DATE
IN-PROCESSING AGE
ABDUL QUDUS 0929 DD MMM 88 07 FEB 02 13 - 14
ASSAD ULLAH 0912 DD MMM 88 23 MAR 03 14 - 15
NAQIB ULLAH
0913 DD MMM 88
07 FEB 03
14 - 15
MOHAMMED ISMAIL 0930 after 07 FEB 87 07 FEB 03 15 or less
MOHAMMED OMAR
0540
DD MMM 86
12 JUN 02
15 - 16
MUHAMMED HAMID AL QARANI
0269
DD MMM 86
09 FEB 02
15 - 16
SHAMS ULLAH 0783 DD MMM 86 28 OCT 02 15 - 16
OMAR AHMED KHADR 0766 19 SEPT 86 28 OCT 02 16
YUSSEF MOHAMMED MUBARAK AL SHIHRI 0114 08 SEPT 85 16 JAN 02 16
MOHAMED JAWAD 0900 DD MMM 85 18 DEC 02 16 - 17
YASSER TALAL AL ZAHRANI
0093
22 SEPT 84
21 JAN 02
17
ABDUL SALAM GHETAN 0132
14  DEC  84 17 JAN 02 17

It follows that the State Department underreported, to the United Nations Committee on the Rights of the Child, the number of prisoners seized as children and transferred subsequently to Guantánamo. The figure reported to the U.N. committee does not even match the information made public by the Department of Defense (see Section 1).

 

4. What Do We Know About These Individuals?


Eleven of the individuals mentioned in the table above have now been released (one of them, Omar Ahmed Khadr, was released after facing military trial as the first individual in history to be charged with war crimes committed as a child). The twelfth allegedly killed himself in his Guantánamo cell (Yasser Talal al Zahrani).  Pictures for nine of these twelve individuals can be found below. Testimony of their treatment in Guantánamo can be found elsewhere in this website.

 

5. Could There Be More?


The information contained in the table in Section 3 is based solely on American military and diplomatic sources. They are corroborated, however, by a variety of international sources. The in-processing dates for the ten prisoners mentioned in Section 1, for example, is confirmed by the information about flight records presented in The Journey of Death, a report on "extraordinary renditions" prepared by the British charity Reprieve. And extant prisoner testimonies are also consistent with the information presented above.

As a matter of fact, if we were to incorporate the testimonies of former prisoners, the Red Cross, and other international sources, then, according to Reprieve (personal communication), the total number of individuals detained as juveniles and transferred to Guantánamo would exceed 46.

International testimonies on Guantánamo's children will be analyzed in a subsequent report.

 

6. Postscript


A report of the CSHRA analysis presented above appeared on the Associated Press (AP) wires on November 16, 2008. In a statement made expressly for that report, a spokesman for the U.S. Government said the Government had already revised its count of juveniles ever held at Guantanamo Bay up to 12. This was the first public acknowledgment of such a revision. It was also a confirmation of the CSHRA analysis. For more, see the November 18, 2008 posting in the JURIST Hotline.

On November 24, 2008, the United States Ambassador to the United Nations sent a letter to Ms. Yanghee Lee, Chairperson of the Committee of the Rights of the Child correcting the number of minors interned at Guatnanamo. Citing this report, the Ambassador said

In response to a recent study by the Center for the Study of Human Rights in the Americas, the Defense Department has reviewed its records and concluded that the correct total number of individuals who were below the age of 18 upon their arrival at Guantanamo is twelve rather than eight.

The letter can be read in its entirety here.

Notes

1. In the list of prisoners released by the Department of Defense on May 15, 2006, unknown dates and months of year XX are indicated by "01/01/XX" rather than by our "DD MMM XX".

2. Larry C. James, Fixing Hell: An Army Psychologist Confronts Abu Ghraib. New York, Grand Central Publishing, 2008. James Yee, For God and Country: Faith and Patriotism Under Fire. New York, Public Affairs, 2005.

 


 
 Al Zahrani Photo         Mohammed Ismail Photo         muhammed_hamid_al_qarani.jpg          Omar Khadr Photo          Yussef al Shihri Photo

                         Yasser al Zahrani            Mohammed Ismail        Muhammed al Qarani              Omar Khadr                  Yussef al Shihri



Naqib Ullah Photo      mohamed_jawad.jpg      mohammed_omar.jpg        Assad Ullah Photo

                                  Naqib Ullah                            Mohamed Jawad                       Mohammed Omar                      Assad Ullah


 

First posted: November 3, 2008
Last revised: March 22, 2013

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