Around 500 minors are currently detained by the US army in Iraq, as well as nearly a dozen juveniles in Afghanistan, a US civil liberties group revealed on Wednesday.
“Since 2002, the United States has held approximately 2,500 individuals under the age of 18 at the time of their capture ... in Guantanamo Bay, in Iraq, and in Afghanistan,” said a US government report for the UN children’s agency, made public by the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU).
“As of April 2008, US forces held approximately 500 juveniles” in Iraq, where “all detainees, regardless of age, are held by US forces as imperative threats to security at the request of the sovereign Iraqi government and pursuant to a UN Security Council Resolution,” the report said.
Pentagon spokesman Jeffrey Gordon confirmed the report was true, but gave no further comment.
The number of minors in US detention in Iraq rose as high as 800 last year.
In addition, around 10 minors are currently held in US custody in Afghanistan’s Bagram prison and are considered “enemy combatants.”
However, Washington said it currently has no minors at its prison facility in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, though two prisoners — Omar Khadr and Mohammed Jawad — were captured when they were under the age of 18 and remain in custody awaiting prosecution.
“Of the eight juveniles who were detained at Guantanamo Bay, only two remain, who are now 21 and approximately 23 years old, respectively, and are facing trial by military commission,” the report said.
US forces have “have captured juveniles, whom we believed were actively participating in ... armed conflict against US and coalition forces or provided material support” to such fighters, it said.
The detainees, it added, were captured “engaging in anti-coalition activity, such as planting improvised explosive devices, operating as look-outs for insurgents, or actively engaging in fighting against US and coalition forces.”
“Although age is not a determining factor in whether or not we detain an individual under the law of armed conflict, we go to great lengths to attend to the special needs of juveniles while they are in detention,” the government said. “Every effort is made to provide them a secure environment, separate from the older detainee population, as well as to attend to the special physical and psychological care they may need.”
The government said juveniles are typically detained for less than 12 months.
Jamil Dakwar, director of the ACLU Human Rights Program, said it was “shocking to know that the US is holding hundreds of juveniles in Iraq and Afghanistan and even more disturbing, that there is no comprehensive policy in place that will protect their rights as children.”
The ACLU also contested the US government’s assertion that eight minors have been held at Guantanamo, saying the number was “closer to 23.”