ACLU Seeks Data on Youth Held By Military Overseas

November 19, 2009 12:09 pm

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Asks Department Of Defense For Information On Compliance With U.N. Recommendations

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NEW YORK – The American Civil Liberties Union today sent a letter to Secretary of Defense Robert Gates requesting updated data on juveniles in U.S. military custody in Iraq and Afghanistan and information on efforts to bring U.S. policy regarding the treatment, detention and trial of juveniles into compliance with international law.

In May 2008, the United Nations Committee on the Rights of the Child conducted a comprehensive review of U.S. compliance with the Optional Protocol on the Involvement of Children in Armed Conflict, which the U.S. ratified in 2002. The protocol guarantees basic protections to former child soldiers. The committee issued a strongly worded critique of the United States’ record on the detention and treatment of juveniles in U.S. military custody abroad, and offered recommendations for compliance.

“The president has pledged to restore the rule of law and humanity to U.S. detention operations overseas. The treatment of juveniles in U.S. military custody is a critical litmus test for this endeavor,” said Jamil Dakwar, Director of the ACLU Human Rights Program. “The U.S. can improve its standing in the international community and lead by example by demonstrating compliance with the committee’s recommendations concerning juvenile detainees.”

The letter to Secretary Gates states that as of May 2008, the U.S. military was holding 513 Iraqi children as “imperative threats to security” and had transferred an unknown number of additional children to Iraqi custody. As of April 2008, there were approximately 10 juveniles being held at the Bagram prison in Afghanistan. During its review, the Committee on the Rights of the Child expressed concern about reports of mistreatment, length of detention and conditions of confinement of juvenile detainees, as well as the lack of adequate access to education, legal services and physical and psychological recovery services. The committee also was concerned that children were being charged and prosecuted for war crimes without consideration for their status as juveniles. Last Friday, Attorney General Eric Holder announced that the Canadian Guantánamo detainee Omar Khadr, who was 15 when he was captured by U.S. forces, will be charged in a military commission for allegedly throwing a hand grenade that killed an Army medic and wounded others in Afghanistan.

“The U.S. has had over 18 months to implement the U.N.’s recommendations regarding the detention of suspected child soldiers abroad,” said Jennifer Turner of the ACLU Human Rights Program. “We hope that the U.S. has taken substantive steps to fulfill its obligations to bring its policies on the detention and treatment of juveniles in line with international standards.”

Today’s request from the ACLU comes on the eve of the 20th anniversary of the Convention of the Rights of the Child (CRC), the most comprehensive treaty on children’s rights, which the U.S. helped to author but has yet to ratify. Somalia is the only other nation that has not ratified the treaty.

The letter to Secretary Gates can be found at:

The full report of the U.N. CRC is available online at:

The Optional Protocol on the Involvement of Children in Armed Conflict is at:

More information about the CRC can be found at:

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