The Guardian February 25, 2004


Guantanamo detentions under fire

Cian Dolan

The detention centre at the US naval base at Guantanamo Bay, 
Cuba, described by various organisations as a "legal black hole", 
continues to draw criticism from many sources. Numerous cracks 
are appearing in the government's case for the continuing 
detention, without trial, of over 600 people at the base, and the 
plans for the eventual trials themselves are also coming under 
attack from within the military.

Three children between the ages of 13 and 15 have been released 
from their detention at Guantanamo Bay. Their continuing 
incarceration had caused widespread condemnation since their 
existence became known in April of last year.

At the time of this revelation an Amnesty International 
spokeswoman stated, "that the US sees nothing wrong with holding 
children at Guantanamo and interrogating them is a shocking 
indicator of how cavalier the Bush administration has become 
about respecting human rights".

Although the teenagers had been classified as "enemy combatants", 
they were kept separate from the rest of the base's population, 
and given classes by specially trained staff. It has since 
emerged that although the three youngest detainees have been 
released and returned to their families, there is an undisclosed 
section of the remaining Guantanamo Bay prisoner population that 
is still under 18.

These other youths, aged between 16 and 17, are not segregated 
from the rest of the prisoners, and are provided with none of the 
services that the three former detainees were. This is in spite 
of accepted international law, which defines children as 
individuals of ages below 18.

In 2002 the US Government ratified the Optional Protocol to the 
Convention on the Rights of Children, which specifically states 
that governments who have signed on to the treaty must make every 
effort to rehabilitate child soldiers within their jurisdiction.

As Jo Becker of Human Rights Watch says, "The United States is 
bound by law to provide rehabilitation for any former child 
soldiers within its jurisdiction. Rehabilitation does not happen 
in a cell in Guantanamo."

The Pentagon is under increasing pressure from human rights 
groups such as Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch for 
increased transparency at Guantanamo Bay. The Pentagon has 
refused permission for an interdenominational delegation led by a 
former US congressman to visit detainees at the Cuban base.

Reverend Bob Edgar, general secretary of the National Council of 
Churches, stated in a letter to the Pentagon that the request to 
visit detainees "stems from our religious conviction that all 
people regardless of religion, culture or status be treated with 
dignity, which translates to humanitarian concern for the 
detainees' physical and mental well-being, and pastoral concern 
for their spiritual well-being".

In a separate development, Major Michael Mori, the US Marine 
Corps lawyer assigned to represent the Australian citizen, David 
Hicks, a prisoner at Guantanamo Bay, has criticised the planned 
military commissions that will be used to try detainees, stating 
that they "will not provide a full and fair trial".

Mori went on to echo concerns expressed by many others when he 
said that the "commission process has been created and controlled 
by those with a vested interest only in convictions".

He also warned that "the commission process just creates an 
unfair system that threatens to convict the innocent and provides 
the guilty a justifiable complaint as to their convictions".

* * *
People's Weekly World

Back to index page