The Guantanamo Children: These Aren’t What You’d Call ‘Little League’ Terrorists
Pakistani national Naqib Ullah (also Naqibullah) was 14 years old and out doing an errand for his father when he was kidnapped from his village in Khan, Afghanistan by 11 men that called themselves, “Samoud’s people.” The men, according to Ullah, “forcibly raped him at gunpoint”. He was taken back to the men’s village encampment and “forced to do manual work.”
Ullah was in the camp for three days when, in December 2002, US forces raided the camp. The group had been forewarned. They ordered Ullah and others to stay behind and fight US forces. He was captured and had a weapon but it had not been fired. He was transported to Guantanamo Bay, Cuba in January 2003 because the military believed he might have knowledge of “Taliban resistance efforts and local leaders.”
This teenager is just one of twenty-two juveniles who wound up in Guantanamo. And, with the release of the Gitmo Files by WikiLeaks, more details on the capture, transfer, detention and release of juvenile detainees are becoming known.
Article 1 of the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child defines a child as “every human being below the age of eighteen years unless under the law applicable to the child, majority is attained earlier.”
UN officials have called on the US to “respect the Optional Protocol to the Convention on the Rights of the Child,” which “aims to increase the protection of children during armed conflicts. It requires that all States parties ‘take all feasible measures’ to ensure that members of their armed forces under the age of 18 do not take a direct part in hostilities.” The UN has tried to remind the US “that children under 18 are entitled to special protection and so any voluntary recruitment under the age of 18 must include sufficient safeguards.” But, the Pentagon has effectively shrugged off the concerns of the UN in the same way they shrugged off the UN Special Rapporteur on Torture’s concerns about Bradley Manning when he was being held at Quantico.
For example, eight years prior to the release of the Gitmo Files, then-Secretary of State Donald Rumsfeld, when asked about “the juveniles in Guantanamo,” complained, “This constant refrain of “the juveniles,” as though there’s a hundred of children in there — these are not children. Dick Myers responded to that. There are plenty of people who have been killed by people who were still in their teens.”
Indeed, then-Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff General Dick Myers did respond. This was his characterization of the children in Guantanamo:
I would say, despite their age, these are very, very dangerous people. They are people that have been vetted mainly in Afghanistan and gone through a thorough process to determine what their involvement was. Some have killed. Some have stated they’re going to kill again. So they may be juveniles, but they’re not on a little-league team anywhere, they’re on a major league team, and it’s a terrorist team. And they’re in Guantanamo for a very good reason — for our safety, for your safety.
These remarks represent the Pentagon’s disregard for the reality that “juveniles” or children might be armed and exploited by terrorist groups. They may have no way out. They may be assaulted sexually or violently if they refuse to fight.
Seventeen year-old Abdullah R. Razaq was with a group of thirty-one other “Arabs, which consisted mostly of Usama Bin Laden bodyguards,” when Pakistani authorities captured him in December 2001. He was transferred to a prison facility in Peshawar and then transferred into the custody of US forces on December 26, 2001, and transported to Kandahar.
His continued detention rests on JTF-GTMO’s assessment that he is “an al-Qaida member” and has “associated with numerous other al-Qaida members, including senior al-Qaida operatives.” It also rests on JTF-GTMO’s assessment that he was “selected and prepared by al-Qaida senior leadership for a special mission to attack US forces at PSAB in Saudi Arabia” and is “a former member of UBL’s 55th Arab Brigade who engaged in combat action against US and Coalition forces at Tora Bora.”
Razaq, however, denies being a member of al-Qaida. JTF-GTMO’s “Evaluation of Detainee’s Account,” reads:
Detainee has denied that he was a member of al-Qaida, but admitted that he traveled to Afghanistan to join the jihad and become a martyr, trained extensively at al-Qaida training camps, was selected by senior al-Qaida leaders for a mission to attack PSAB, and fought on the Bagram battle lines. He has also acknowledged having been present at Tora Bora during meetings of senior al-Qaida commanders during the battle. Detainee has reported about his brother SA-231, and has provided much of what is known about SA-231’s timeline. However, he continues to omit specific details regarding SA-231’s activities and his associates at Tora Bora, and has not acknowledged being a UBL bodyguard or a member of UBL’s security detail. He has provided very little information of value about UBL, Sayf al-Adl, or other senior al-Qaida figures to whom he had access, and it is not clear whether he has no valuable information about them or if he is deliberately withholding important information. Detainee has been generally cooperative, though he has used resistance techniques to protect certain past activities and associates, such as periodically changing his account and filling in recent chronological gaps in his timeline with activities conducted at earlier times.
He is assessed to be a “HIGH risk” but, Razaq’s testimony before an Administrative Review Board in 2006 raises doubts about whether Razaq’s was ever involved and cooperated with al-Qaida. During Round 2, he does not appear to have any information that would connect him to al Qaida other than the fact that he went to fight in Chechnya and trained at the al Farouq Training Camp, where others connected to al Qaida have trained. He explicitly says he is not “friends with Usama Bin Laden.” He is alleged to be on a “list” but corrects the military charging him with being on a list of suspected al Qaida members by stating the list is a print-out from a computer in Karachi that was taken by a person who “took all the prisoners’ names to see if they were listed as being missing.”
A Designated Military Officer at the hearing claims again that he and his brother received specialized training on SAM-7A and B missiles. He says it is not true. Then, he explains that “psychological torture” has been used on him to find out if he had trained on the weapon.
This is not the first board I have attended. I attended three other boards. For each Board, I get a new interrogator. Each new interrogator made the allegation that I had trained on SAM-7. Three years ago I was at Camp III and they interrogated me for a month. The air conditioning temperature was 54 degrees. It was very cold. They let me sit there for long hours and they brought big speakers with loud noises. They tortured me while standing up and they insulted me and my religion. They have done many things to me. They have done worse to my brother. While I was being tortured, they asked me whether I had trained on SAM-7 and I told them no. Up to this point, they still ask me and this allegation is still in my folder. If I wanted to lie and say yes, I would have told them when I was being tortured. Please excuse me for what I just said, but this is what happened.
Razaq says he told the interrogators at Camp V about the torture but they wrote it down and did not change anything. He told the interrogators it was cold and he wanted to go back to his cellblock. But, “there was no use in telling them.”
Keeping Razaq in detention becomes further dubious when reading this part of the “Intelligence Assessment” from his report:
Detainee has provided no information regarding UBL, UBL’s security practices and bodyguards, or any of the other information expected as a result of placement as a UBL bodyguard or security detail member. Detainee has not yet been confirmed to have been a UBL bodyguard, and it is not clear whether he is specifically withholding valuable information about UBL and the bodyguards or whether he had only limited exposure to them. Detainee has been partially exploited but remains of significant intelligence value.
Razaq was transferred back to Saudi Arabia, where he was born, in September of 2007.
It’s worth noting with regards to Razaq’s age the assessment has what appears to be a discrepancy error that calls into question whether the military really knew his age. In his “Prior History,” it reads, “In early 2000, when detainee was 18 years old, his 22-year old brother, Abd Abdallah Ibrahim Latif al-Sharakh, aka (Abbad), was killed while participating in jihad in Chechnya.” However, his date of birth is listed as “18 January 1984.” He could not have been 18 years old when his brother died if he was actually born in 1984.
The most well known juvenile detainee to be imprisoned at Guantanamo is Omar Ahmed Khadr. His assessment report from January 2004 explains the reason for his continued detention was because “his father is a senior Al-Qaida financier and reportedly the fourth in command underneath Usama Bin Laden in the Al-Qaida organization.” His brother and him were encouraged to go to Afghanistan and fight the US with the support of Al-Qaida and the Taliban. And, according to JTF-GTMO, though just sixteen years old at the time of his travel, he is “intelligent and educated and understands the gravity of his actions and affiliations.” And, he admitted to participating in mining operations and “harassing attacks” against US forces.
This assessment stands in stark contrast to then-UN Special Representative for Children and Armed Conflict Radhika Coomaraswamy’s contention that Khadr is a child soldier whom the US should help rehabilitate.
“Like other children abused by armed groups around the world who are repatriated to their home communities and undergo re-education for their reintegration, Omar should be given the same protections afforded these children…Trying young people for war crimes with regard to acts committed when they are minors could create a dangerous international precedent.”
Fortunately, the world did not see the US—the first nation since World War II to prosecute an alleged child soldier for war crimes—proceed with the trying of a child soldier in a military tribunal. Khadr accepted a plea deal. His defense attorney, Dennis Edney, thought a plea deal was the only way Khadr would get out of Guantanamo Bay.
Khadr was not only faced with the prospect of a military tribunal that rested on dubious charges like “Murder in Violation of the Law of War” but he also faced a situation where the judge had allowed the prosecution to admit evidence obtained when he was tortured into the trial.
The torture of Khadr is worth explicitly noting. Just what he experienced is harrowing to revisit. From an affidavit submitted by Khadr in February 2008, here’s just some of the torture Khadr describes:
…Around the time of Ramadan in 2003, an Afghan man, claiming to be from the Afghan government, interrogated me at Guantanamo. A military interrogator was in the room at the time. The Afghan man said his name was “Izmarai” (Lion), and that he was from Wardeq. He spoke mostly in Farsi, and a little in Pashto and English. He had an American flag on his trousers. The Afghan man appeared displeased with the answers that I was giving him, and after some time both the Afghan and the military interrogator left the room. A military official then removed my chair and short-shackled me by my hands and feet to a bolt in the floor. Military officials then moved my hands behind my knees. They left me in the room in this condition for approximately five to six hours, causing me extreme pain. Occasionally, a military officer and the interrogators would come in and laugh at me.
During the course of his interrogation of me, the Afghan man told me that a new detention center was being built in Afghanistan for non-cooperative detainees at Guantanamo. The Afghan man told me that I would be sent to Afghanistan and raped. The Afghan man also told me that they like small boys in Afghanistan, a comment that I understood as a threat of sexual violence. Before leaving the room, the Afghan man took a piece of paper on which my picture appeared, and wrote on it in the Pashto language, “This detainee must be transferred to Bagram.”
Khadr’s detailing of torture would not provoke any judicial empathy. What the juvenile shared would be completely and callously overlooked by a judge who, on August 17, 2010, turned down his motion to prevent statements that were “the product of torture, involuntary [and] unreliable” from being used against him.
Judge Parrish contended, “There is no credible evidence that the accused was ever tortured,” and added,“While the accused was 15 years old at the time he was captured, he was not immature for his age.”
As Andy Worthington, who has partnered with WikiLeaks to cover the Gitmo Files, wrote, “All this really demonstrates is how spectacularly [the judge] missed the point. Held for two years without access to a lawyer, for three years without ever being charged, and at no point treated as a juvenile deserving of rehabilitation, Khadr’s entire experience of US detention has been lawless and abusive, and, in any case, it should be irrelevant whether a 15-year old apparently made self-incriminating statements, when the focus should be on his father, Ahmed Khadr, an alleged fundraiser for Osama bin Laden, who was responsible for indoctrinating his child in the first place.”
US unwillingness to release Khadr is even more atrocious when considered alongside JTF-GTMO’s assessment of Naqib Ullah, who was recommended for release on August 15, 2003. JTF-GTMO conclude, eight months after he had been brought to Guantanamo, Ullah is a “kidnap victim and a forced conscript of a local warring tribe, affiliated with the Taliban.” They further conclude:
Though the detainee may still have some remaining intelligence, it’s been assessed that that information does not outweigh the necessity to remove the juvenile from his current environment and afford him an opportunity to “grow out” of the radical extremism he has been subject to. Based on the detainee folder, the knowledgeability brief, and interrogations by JTF Guantanamo, the detainee has no further intelligence value to the United States. Detainee has not expressed thoughts of violence or made threats toward the US or its allies during interrogations or in the course of his detention. He is considered low threat to the US, its interest and its allies.
Anyone who reads that and considers the assessment in conjunction with the case of Khadr must conclude that Khadr’s crime is really being born to a father with ties to al Qaeda. One must also conclude that perhaps it was less taboo for the Bush Administration in 2003 to release detainees without trying them or keeping them in indefinite detention than it is for the Obama Administration now. And, perhaps, that’s why JTF-GTMO labeled as a “HIGH” value intelligence asset in their assessment: to justify not giving him an opportunity to “rehabilitate” and “grow out” of his “extremism.”
At 7:00 AM New York Time, files on Omar Khadr, Naqib Ullah, Abdulrazzaq al-Sharekh, Yasser al-Zahrani, Abdul Qudus, Mohammed Ismail, have all been released.
Here’s a list of juveniles whose reports have yet to be released:
Mohamed Jawad (ISN 900) Born 1985, seized December 2002
Mohammed El-Gharani (ISN 269) Born 1986, seized October 2001
Faris Muslim al-Ansari (ISN 253) Born 1984, seized December 2001
Hassan bin Attash (ISN 1456) Born 1985, seized 11 September 2002
Shams Ullah (ISN 783) Born 1986, arrived in Guantánamo October 2002
Qari Esmhatulla (ISN 591) Born 1984, seized March 2002
Peta Mohammed (ISN 908) Born 1985, seized December 2002
Yousef al-Shehri (ISN 114) Born 8 September 1985, seized November 2001
Abdulsalam al-Shehri (ISN 132) Born 14 December 1984, seized November 2001
Rasul Kudayev (ISN 82) Born 23 January 1984, seized November 2001
Haji Mohammed Ayub (ISN 279) Born 15 April 1984, seized December 2001
Mohammed Omar (ISN 540) Born 1986, seized December 2001
Saji Ur Rahman (ISN 545) Born 1984, seized December 2001 (Rahman said he was 15 when captured)
Khalil Rahman Hafez (ISN 301) Born 20 January 1984, seized December 2001
Sultan Ahmad (ISN 842) Born 1 November 1984, seized before November 2002