Human Rights Watch: US forces imprison children in Iraq (without due process)

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The US military is back in the cross-hairs of human rights organizations.  The issue in question is our detention of children, their treatment in custody, judicial review, and access by international monitors. Today, the issue will come up for review by the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child.

On May 22, the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child will meet in Geneva to review US compliance with the international treaty banning the use of child soldiers, which requires states to help with the recovery and reintegration of such children under their control.

Source: Human Rights Watch

Although Iraq is supposedly a sovereign country, US forces still seem to be playing a major role in arresting and detaining Iraqi citizens, including children.  

Human Rights Watch accuses US forces of violating the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child

US forces have detained 2,400 children in Iraq, with the vast majority detained after the outbreak of sectarian violence in 2006.

Since 2003, the US has detained some 2,400 children in Iraq, including children as young as 10. Detention rates rose drastically in 2007 to an average of 100 new children a month from 25 a month in 2006. The US holds most children at US Camp Cropper in Baghdad, but has also held children at the main US military detention facility, Camp Bucca near Basra. US officials earlier this year told Human Rights Watch that they separate children from adults at these facilities but do not separate very young or particularly vulnerable children from other child detainees.

Source: Human Rights Watch

US forces are accused of failing to:


• Ensure children in its custody receive prompt access to independent legal assistance and family visits;  

• Provide children with prompt review of detention by an independent judicial body;  

• Release children who have been detained for more than a year, in compliance with Section 6, Article 5 of Coalition Provisional Authority Memo 3 (revised) of June 27, 2004;  

• Separate very young and other particularly vulnerable children from other detainees;  

• Allow UNICEF, UNAMI, and other independent monitors confidential access to children in US custody;  

• Refrain from transferring physical custody of children to Iraqi authorities pending trial when there is reason to believe they will be at risk of abuse; and,  

• Ensure the right to education and recreation of all children in US custody.

Source: Human Rights Watch

These allegations violate the provisions of the UN Conventions on the Rights of the Child, particularly Article 37.

The US military response to the allegations

The US military issued a categorical denial of the charges. Here is the response by Major Matthew Morgan, spokesman for detainee operations (courtesy of CNN).

Morgan said that juvenile detainees do have access to family visitation, including those held in Baghdad, “in part to make them more accessible to families and service providers.”

He also said those charged under Iraqi law do have access to legal counsel, but “those who are not referred to the Iraqi criminal courts do not have legal counsel because they are not charged with a crime.”

All detainees’ cases are reviewed by independent attorneys within seven days of internment, Morgan said.

“Those referred to the Central Criminal Court of Iraq are reviewed in accordance with Iraqi law. Those not referred to CCCI are reviewed in accordance with international humanitarian law,” he added.

[snip]

Morgan said juveniles “are given access to some of the highest quality schooling available in Iraq” at Dar al-Hikmah.

[snip]

“Like adults, children transferred to Iraqi custody are at risk of abuse and poor conditions of confinement. A U.S. military official in Baghdad told Human Rights Watch this month that the U.S. was delaying the transfer of 130 child detainees to Iraq’s al-Tobchi juvenile detention facility because of conditions there,” the report said.

Morgan said the coalition has refrained from “transferring physical custody of children to Iraqi authorities pending trial when there is reason to believe they will be at risk of abuse” and that the military does separate juveniles from the greater population.

“Those with special needs such as the mentally infirm are provided medical care and placed in separate housing where appropriate for their individual case,” he said.

Let’s talk credibility

CNN was content to list the allegations from Human Rights Watch and the rebuttal from Maj. Morgan.  The reader is left with the distinct impression that the story is much ado about nothing.  Just another fly in the wonderful ointment that is our continued occupation of Iraq.

We have heard denials of mistreatment of Iraqi detainees in the past. Human rights organizations were criticizing the US treatment of prisoners in Abu Ghraib and other detention facilities in Iraq during the last 6 months of 2003. Everyone knows that those allegations of abusive treatment were true. We have also heard about torture and due process violations of prisoners held in Guantanamo Bay, allegations which also ultimately turned out to be true.  Given that track record of denial followed by a steady drip of substantiating evidence followed by embarrassing admissions of guilt, I find the willingness of journalists to accept denials at face value disturbing.  Fool me once, shame on you; fool me twice, shame on me. I’ve lost count how many denials of wrongdoing by the Department of Defense under our glorious Commander-in-Chief Bush have led to reluctant admissions of guilt.

A closer look at the rebuttal by Maj. Morgan raises doubts in my mind.

Morgan said that juvenile detainees do have access to family visitation, including those held in Baghdad, “in part to make them more accessible to families and service providers.

The juveniles are held in Camp Cropper, which just happens to be in Baghdad. Its proximity to Baghdad does not guarantee accessibility to families and service providers. A blanket statement that “juvenile detainees do have access to family visitation” is a red flag.  It implies that it is uniformly true. I am willing to be bet that Human Rights Watch has found some exceptions to that general rule.

He also said those charged under Iraqi law do have access to legal counsel, but “those who are not referred to the Iraqi criminal courts do not have legal counsel because they are not charged with a crime.”

This statement contains far too many weasel words. The juvenile detainees have access to legal council if they have been charged with a crime. The idea of due process means that you are not held unless you have been charged with a crime.  Jailing someone until you can gather enough evidence to charge them is not due process.  Jailing children for months to years until you figure out whether they will charged with a crime is not due process.  

All detainees’ cases are reviewed by independent attorneys within seven days of internment, Morgan said.

I would like to see proof that each and every case is reviewed by independent attorneys within seven days of internment. I find it difficult to believe that all 2400 children detained by the US had their cases reviewed in less than a week by independent attorneys. Let’s start with a definition of independent attorneys.  If that definition includes military justice personnel, then the idea of independent legal review is a joke. We have not given adults in our custody access to “independent attorneys” so why should I believe that we give it to children in our custody. Take a look at what Human Rights Watch said about this issue:

US officials told Human Rights Watch that children are not provided with lawyers and do not attend the one-week or one-month detention reviews after their transfer to Camp Cropper. While the US does assign each child a military “advocate” at the mandatory six-month detention review, that advocate has no training in juvenile justice or child development.

Morgan’s statement conflicts with information provided by other US officials. Inconsistency is rarely the hallmark of truth.  Military “advocates” do not remotely qualify as “independent” legal representation.

“Those referred to the Central Criminal Court of Iraq are reviewed in accordance with Iraqi law. Those not referred to CCCI are reviewed in accordance with international humanitarian law,” he added.

So, how many are not referred to CCCI?  How do you give access to legal representation to juveniles who are not being charged with a crime under Iraqi law? “Those not referred to CCCI” are in legal limbo.

Morgan said juveniles “are given access to some of the highest quality schooling available in Iraq” at Dar al-Hikmah.

This statement does not hold up to scrutiny. Prior to August 2007, none of the children in US custody received educational services.  Only half of the children currently in our custody have access to educational services.  Morgan misoverestimated the access to education.  Per Human Rights Watch:

In August 2007, the United States opened Dar al-Hikmah (House of Wisdom) at Camp Cropper with the stated intention to provide 600 detainees, ranging in age from 11 to 17, with educational services pending release or transfer to Iraqi custody. However, in May 2008, US military officials in Baghdad told Human Rights Watch that only “200 to 300” of the 513 child detainees were enrolled in classes at Dar al-Hikmah. Currently, children who are excluded from the program do not receive any other educational services.  

Morgan also dodges fundamental issues about Iraqi juvenile detention facilities, judicial system, and sectarian strife.

Morgan said the coalition has refrained from “transferring physical custody of children to Iraqi authorities pending trial when there is reason to believe they will be at risk of abuse” and that the military does separate juveniles from the greater population.

Human Rights Watch was told that the US was delaying transfer of 130 child detainees to the al-Tobchi juvenile detention facility because the conditions there are deplorable. The judicial system in Iraq is also largely controlled by Shiites so the treatment of Sunni detainees has to be a concern.  Finally, while we may segregate juveniles from the rest of the prison population at Camp Cropper, that does not prevent juvenile detainees from mistreating other juvenile detainees.  It does not mean that sectarian violence will not occur behind bars.

US officials earlier this year told Human Rights Watch that they separate children from adults at these facilities but do not separate very young or particularly vulnerable children from other child detainees. In early 2007, a 17-year-old boy was reportedly strangled to death by a fellow child detainee at Camp Cropper.  

One other detail was omitted by Maj. Morgan. The US military holds hundreds of children in a women’s detention facility.  Technically, these children do not count toward the number of juveniles in custody because they are not suspected of any wrongdoing. The suspect or person of interest in these cases is their mother. The educational and psychological needs of these children are not anyone’s priority.

When it comes to Iraq, only two acronyms seem to apply – SNAFU and FUBAR.


“In conflicts where it was not directly involved, the US has been a leader in helping child soldiers re-enter society,” said Clarisa Bencomo, Middle East children’s researcher at Human Rights Watch. “That kind of leadership is unfortunately missing in Iraq.”  

Source

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6 comments

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    • DWG on May 22, 2008 at 6:24 pm
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    Another embarrassment in Iraq

  1. Now can we impeach the bastards?

    • pico on May 22, 2008 at 7:53 pm

    If what the Human Rights Watch is saying is true, I can’t imagine that any of these children will grow up with a resentment of the United States, so there’s no chance of this blowing up in our face when they’re all adults.  Nope, no siree.

    • geomoo on May 22, 2008 at 8:54 pm

    If the news of all these violently anti-American acts were reaching the average American, we would have gotten rid of these sadists a long time ago.  If shots from the war were on the news here as they are on foreign television, citizens would have forced a withdrawal by now.  When widespread abuse of children is not enough to jar them into doing their moral duty, then what will be.

    Of course the US is lying, and most of the world knows it.

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