Guantanamo detentions under fire

The detention center at the U.S. naval base at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, described by various organizations 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 U.S. 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 U.S. 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 U.S. congressman to visit detainees at the Cuban base. Rev. 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, Maj. Michael Mori, the U.S. Marine Corps lawyer assigned to represent David Hicks, an Australian citizen being held at Guantanamo Bay, has criticized 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.”

The author can be reached at pww@pww.org.