Sun, Nov 30, 2003 - Page 7 News List

US' detention of teens condemned

AP , GUANTANAMO BAY NAVAL BASE, CUBA

It looks like a summer camp with manicured lawns, a dusty soccer field and a library of kids' movies, but the fenced compound of Iguana House holds three teenagers accused of fighting alongside Afghanistan's ousted Taliban.

Human rights advocates say the US military should have released them long ago, but detention mission commander Major-General Geoffrey Miller said this week their freedom is being held up at higher levels.

Soldiers guard them day and night, never shutting their bedroom doors and monitoring them on wide-angle mirrors on the walls. The bathroom remains open, a small curtain covering part of the doorway for privacy.

"We're concerned that a prolonged separation from their families may cause a deterioration in their mental health," said Jo Becker, of the New York-based group Human Rights Watch.

The boys, who wear orange jumpsuits, undergo more than an hour of group therapy twice a week and also meet one-on-one with psychiatrists.

Miller recommended in August that they be sent back to their home countries. The request is awaiting approval by the Pentagon and other agencies, Miller said, adding he expects a decision soon.

The general has acknowledged there are a few other juveniles, ages 16 and 17, held with adults in the main maximum-security prison but he declines to say how many. Some 660 detainees from 44 countries are held at the base on suspicion of links to the Taliban or al-Qaida terror network.

Unlike the main prison, which is ringed in razor wire, the cinderblock duplex holding the three youngest detainees has fences covered in green netting except for an opening allowing views of cliffs and the ocean.

Guards say the teenagers often kick soccer balls in the yard, though it has no goals. Dozens of balls have been lost when the boys kicked them into the sea, said one guard, who identified himself as Master Sergeant P.

Leading journalists through one side of the air conditioned duplex on Thursday, military officials kept the three boys out of sight.

Their days are regimented, with their routine posted on a wall: wake up at 6am, then breakfast, room inspection, studies and counseling. They have a half hour of recreation, time for board games and movies, followed by lights out at 9pm.

The boys study their native languages, social studies and geography. Officials decline to specify their citizenship. The three are all Muslims, officials said.

The boys exchange censored mail with relatives through the International Committee of the Red Cross, the only independent group allowed access to the detainees.

The teenagers are generally respectful, and are considering becoming a religious cleric and a doctor, Sergeant P said.

The guard said he has never seen the boys cry.

They enjoy films including National Geographic nature films, Call of the Wild, Free Willy and White Fang. The Tom Hanks film Castaway is also a favorite.

The teenagers have a refrigerator stocked with apples, oranges, pears and dates. Those who cooperate get snacks and extra movie time. Those who don't are sent to their rooms for "time out."

"We were told six months ago that the US government was aware that the detention of children was problematic," said Alistair Hodgett of Amnesty International. "Nothing has happened in their case."

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