WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The United States has held three child detainees at its military base in Guantanamo Bay for more than a year and the Pentagon said on Thursday it has no plans to move or free them, despite international pressure.
A defense official said doctors estimated the boys were 13-15 years old and were deemed “enemy combatants” along with about 660 prisoners being held at the base in Cuba after the U.S. invasion in Afghanistan in response to the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks on America.
“There has been lots of media speculation they were going to be moved out but that’s all it has been, just speculation,” the official told Reuters when asked if there were plans to move or release the teen-age detainees any time soon.
A spokeswoman for the military task force holding the prisoners told Reuters last August that prison camp commander, Brig-Gen. Geoffrey Miller, would recommend the three boys be sent home, and this was confirmed by Miller a month later.
The detentions without trial at Guantanamo Bay have drawn worldwide criticism from governments and human rights groups who have urged the United States to file charges against the prisoners and to send the children home to their families.
The military official said the three were being kept separately from older prisoners in a refurbished house. They shared a large bedroom and there was also a dayroom, a kitchen and a facility where the teens received daily lessons.
“They are being tutored in their own language and are learning other skills. They are being taught to read and mathematics.”
The official said there was a large yard around the house where the teens played soccer, volleyball and other games.
NO FAMILY CONTACT
He did not know whether family members had been informed of the teen-agers whereabouts but said they had been given access to Red Cross officials who visited the base.
Human Rights Watch
“None of the detainees has had direct contact with their families except for one,” he said, referring to an Australian man David Hicks who was allowed to speak to his father on the telephone.
In the past, senior Pentagon officials described the children as “enemy combatants” who despite their age were “very, very dangerous people” who “have stated they have killed and will kill again.”
Asked whether there had been any incidents involving the children, the official said he did not believe so.
“The conditions they are being held in are humane. There have been very many media down there who have seen the conditions they live in,” he said, adding that the media had not seen the children themselves.
“We are not going to hold them up for public scrutiny or ridicule,” he said.
Jo Becker, advocacy director for children’s rights at Human Rights Watch, voiced deep concern the children were still being held and called for their release.
“They have been in detention since the early part of last year without any direct contact with their families or knowledge about what is going to happen to them,” said Becker.
She appealed to the military to free the detainees so they could be re-integrated with their communities and said there was particular worry about them being separated and detained during the vulnerable teen years.
She said other teen-agers, aged between 16-18, were also being held at the U.S. base along with the older prisoners. The military official declined to provide any details on detainees aged between 16-18.
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