In a supplemental report to the U.N. Committee on the Rights of the Child (CRC) made public today, the U.S. government revealed that it has no comprehensive policy in place for dealing with youth detained by the U.S. military in Iraq and Afghanistan, including nearly 2,500 youths under the age of 18 that have been held in U.S.-run facilities overseas to date. In a separate report, the American Civil Liberties Union charged that the lack of safeguards in place for the treatment of youth under the age of 18 in U.S. military custody violates internationally accepted standards.
“It is shocking to know that the U.S. 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,” said Jamil Dakwar, Director of the ACLU Human Rights Program. “Juveniles and former child soldiers should be treated first and foremost as candidates for rehabilitation and reintegration into society, not subjected to further victimization.”
According to the ACLU, the lack of protections and consideration for the juvenile status of detainees violates the obligations of the U.S. under the Optional Protocol on the Involvement of Children in Armed Conflict that the U.S. ratified in 2002, as well as universally accepted international norms. The CRC oversees compliance with the Optional Protocol, which mandates countries to protect children under 18 from military recruitment and guarantees basic protections to former child soldiers. The CRC will question a U.S. government delegation on its compliance with Protocol obligations on May 22 in Geneva.
According to the government report, approximately 2,500 youths under the age of 18 have been held, in some cases for months and years without being charged with a crime, in U.S.-run facilities overseas. As of April 2008, there are approximately 500 youths being held in US-run detention facilities in Iraq alone. The government report claims that it is holding Iraqi children in prison in order to educate them to “contribute positively to the future of Iraq.”
The report also reveals that approximately 10 youths are being held in U.S. custody at the notorious Bagram military base in Afghanistan, and that as many as eight youths between the ages of 13 and 17 at the time of their capture have been held at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba. According to the ACLU report released yesterday, that number is closer to 23, and some sources estimate the number of youth held at Guantánamo at as high as 60.
The government report also addresses domestic recruitment tactics of the United States military, revealing that the U.S. fails to uphold its obligations under the Optional Protocol to protect youth from recruiter misconduct such as false promises or coercion. According to the government report, there were 2,456 claims of such recruiter misconduct in 2006 alone. According to the Government Accountability Office, the actual number of instances is likely higher, due to poor tracking and reporting.
The government claims in its report that Defense Department policy is not to recruit any youth under the age of 17, but a Pentagon-produced video game recruitment tool targets 13-year-olds, military training corps target youth as young as 11, and military handbooks instruct recruiters to target high school students as early as possible, says the ACLU.
“Contrary to the government report, recruitment does not begin when a high school senior signs a contract to enlist,” said Jennifer Turner of the ACLU Human Rights Program. “The government fails to acknowledge that recruiters contact, cultivate, and at times harass potential recruits long before they are old enough to sign up.”
The government report also reveals the high number of youth of color among enlistees. In fiscal year 2007, 43 percent of all new under-18 enlistees in the Navy were black or Latino, along with 32 percent in the Air Force, 30 percent in the Marine Corps, and 22 percent in the Army. In its submission to the UN yesterday the ACLU charged that the military targets youth of color for military recruitment.
The government report to CRC is available online at: www2.ohchr.org/english/bodies/crc/docs/AdvanceVersions/
The ACLU report to the Committee on the Rights of the Child is available online at:
The Optional Protocol on the Involvement of Children in Armed Conflict is at: