US admits to imprisoning Afghan children

(Digital Journal) – The United States has admitted to imprisoning  hundreds of Afghan children as ‘enemy combatants’ in a report to the United  Nations.

The Associated Press reports  that the State Department informed the world body of the detentions as part of  compliance with the UN  Convention on the Rights of the Child.

More than 200 children, who were mostly  16-year-olds according to the United States’ admission, have been captured  during the ongoing 11-year-long US invasion and occupation in Afghanistan. They  are held for about a year each at the Parwan Detention Facility, a military  prison next to Bagram  Airfield where detainees are held without charge or trial and where Afghan  President Hamid Karzai and former prisoners claim they are held in  “Guantanamo-like conditions” and tortured.

Pentagon documents report at least two  detainee homicides  committed by US troops at Bagram.

The US has been imprisoning the Afghan  children “to prevent a combatant from returning to the battlefield,” according  to the report.

“Many of them have been released or  transferred to the Afghan government,” the report states.

While the military admits that the  average age of the captured detainees is around 16, human rights advocates claim  that much younger children have been rounded up and imprisoned by US forces.

“I’ve represented children as young as  11 or 12 who have been at Bagram,” Tina M. Foster, executive director of the International Justice Network, a group that  represents Bagram detainees, told the Associated Press. Foster also questioned  the number of children imprisoned by the United States.

“I question the number 200, because  there are thousands of detainees at Parwan. There are other children whose  parents have said these children are under 18 at the time of their capture, and  the US doesn’t allow the detainees or their families to contest their age.”

Jamil Dakwar of the American Civil  Liberties Union also believes that younger children are being held in the  prison.

“It is highly likely that some children  were as young as 14 or 13 years old when they were detained by US forces,”  Dakwar told the Associated Press.

Dakwar said that imprisoning youngsters  for lengthy periods “exposes children in detention to greater risk of physical  and mental abuse, especially if they are denied access to protections guaranteed  to them under international law.”

In its last report to the United  Nations, filed in 2008, the US admitted that the military held around 500 Iraqi  children. According to that report, the US imprisoned around 2,500 children,  most of them in Iraq, during the course of the War on Terror. Children  as young as 12 were also jailed in the US military prison at Guantanamo Bay,  Cuba.

At the notorious Abu Ghraib prison  outside Baghdad, former commander Gen. Janis Karpinski said she visited child  detainees, including one boy who “looked like he was eight years old.”

Children  as young as 11 were imprisoned at Abu Ghraib. Girls, as well as boys, were  held. Both girls and boys were raped and sexually assaulted, as were older  women, by US troops and contractors at the prison; Maj. Gen. Anthony  Taguba’s scathing 2004 report  compiled in the wake of the torture  photo scandal tells of an Army translator who raped  a teenage boy while a female soldier photographed the attack.

Sadly, the vast  majority of prisoners held by the US in Iraq– as many as 90 percent of  them, according to US intelligence estimates– were innocent. Many innocent  Iraqis, especially women, were imprisoned as bargaining  chips in the hope that male relatives suspected of resisting the US-led  invasion and occupation would turn themselves in, another clear violation of  international law.

Gen. Karpinski, who was in charge of  Abu Ghraib at the time of the torture photo scandal, told the BBC that a  superior officer told her he didn’t care about innocent civilians imprisoned by  mistake.

“I don’t care if we’re holding 15,000  innocent civilians,” Maj. Gen. Walter Wodjakowski, then the second-highest Army  general in Iraq, allegedly told Karpinski. “We’re winning the war.”

Although the United States is  submitting its report in compliance with the UN Convention on the Rights of the  Child, the  US and Somalia are the only two nations which have not ratified the treaty.

The Obama administration also indirectly  supports the use of child soldiers by repeatedly granting waivers from the  Child Soldiers Protection Act, signed into law by George W. Bush in 2008, to  countries in Africa and the Middle East which use children in their armed  forces. The waivers, personally  authorized by President Barack Obama, allow war-torn nations such as Libya,  Yemen, the Democratic Republic of the Congo and South Sudan to receive hundreds  of millions of dollars in US military aid despite the fact that they are known  to use child soldiers.

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