By Sherwood Ross
Since it invaded Iraq in 2003, the U.S. has detained thousands of juveniles—some of whom were tortured and sexually abused, according to published reports. Figures of the number of children behind bars vary. Some estimates put the number as high as 6,000.
While the criminal abuse of male prisoners at Abu Ghraib is well known, child and women prisoners held there have also been tortured and raped, according to Neil Mackay of Glasgow’s “Sunday Herald.” Abu Ghraib prison is located about 20 miles west of Baghdad.
Iraqi lawyer Sahar Yasiri, representing the Federation of Prisoners and Political Prisoners, said in a published interview there are more than 400,000 detainees in Iraq being held in 36 prisons and camps and that 95 percent of the 10,000 women among them have been raped. Children, he said, “suffer from torture, rape, (and) starvation” and do not know why they have been arrested. He added the children have been victims of “random” arrests “not based on any legal text.”
Former prisoner Thaar Salman Dawod in a witness statement said, “(I saw) two boys naked and they were cuffed together face to face and (a US soldier) was beating them and a group of guards were watching and taking pictures and there was three female soldiers laughing at the prisoners.”
Iraqi TV reporter, Suhaib Badr-Addin al-Baz, arrested while making a documentary and thrown into Abu Ghraib for 74 days, told Mackay he saw “hundreds” of children there. Al-Baz said he heard one 12-year-old girl crying, “They have undressed me. They have poured water over me.” He said he heard her whimpering daily.
Al-Baz also told of a 15-year-old boy “who was soaked repeatedly with hoses until he collapsed.” Amnesty International said ex-detainees reported boys as young as 10 are held at Abu Ghraib.
German TV reporter Thomas Reutter of “Report Mainz” quoted U.S. Army Sgt. Samuel Provance that interrogation specialists “poured water” over one 16-year-old Iraqi boy, drove him throughout a cold night, “smeared him with mud” and then showed him to his father, who was also in custody. Apparently, one tactic employed by the Bush regime is to elicit confessions from adults by dragging their abused children in front of them.
The Los Angeles Times as far back as August 26, 2004, reported U.S. military police at Abu Ghraib “used Army dogs to play a bizarre game in which they scared teenage detainees into defecating and urinating on themselves.”
And reporter Hersh told the American Civil Liberties Union convention he has seen videotapes of Iraqi boys that were sodomized, “and the worst part is the soundtrack of the boys shrieking.”
Jonathan Steele, wrote in the British “The Guardian” this past Sept. 9th, “Hundreds of children, some as young as nine, are being held in appalling conditions in Baghdad’s prisons, sleeping in sweltering temperatures in overcrowded cells, without working fans, no daily access to showers, and subject to frequent sexual abuse by guards, current and former prisoners say.” Sixteen-year-old Omar Ali told the “Guardian” he spent more than three years at Karkh juvenile prison sleeping with 75 boys to a cell that is just five by 10 meters, some of them on the floor. Omar told the paper guards often take boys to a separate room in the prison and rape them.
As the occupying authority in Iraq, the Bush administration cannot escape legal responsibility for the torture crimes of Iraqi jailers or for the deplorable conditions in the prisons they operate.
Raad Jamal, age 17, was taken from his Doura home by U.S. troops and turned over to the Iraqi Army’s Second regiment where Jamal said he was hung from the ceiling by ropes and beaten with electric cables.
Human Rights Watch(HRW) last June put the number of juveniles detained at 513. The grounds: they pose “imperative security risks.” In all, HRW estimates, since 2003, the U.S. has detained 2,400 children in Iraq, some as young as ten.
HRW said the children “are subject to interrogations, have no access to lawyers, and sometimes are held for more than a year without charge, in violation of the United States’ own regulations.” It said children “have very limited contact with their families.” HRW called upon the U.S. to “ensure that children it takes into custody are treated according to their status as children, and given prompt judicial review and access to independent monitors.” Apparently, this has not been the case.
Clarisa Bencomo, of HRW’s Children’s Rights Division said, “The vast majority of children detained in Iraq languish for months in U.S. military custody. The U.S. should provide these children with immediate access to lawyers and an independent judicial review of their detention.”
IRIN, the humanitarian news service, last year quoted Khalid Rabia of the Iraqi NGO Prisoners’ Association for Justice(PAJ), stating: “Children are being treated as adults in Iraqi prisons and our investigations have shown that they are being abused and tortured.” IRIN was refused permission to visit child prisoners.
Five boys between 13 and 17 accused of supporting insurgents and detained by the Iraqi army “showed signs of torture all over their bodies,” such as “cigarette burns over their legs,” she said.
One boy of 13 arrested in Afghanistan in 2002 was held in solitary for more than a year at Bagram and Guantanamo and made to stand in stress position and deprived of sleep. And 15-year-old Omar Khadr, a Canadian, was held in Guantanamo for two years without being allowed to see a lawyer or have contact with his family. Khadr has been held for a total of six years. According to the current “Catholic Worker,” Mohammed Jawad was 17 when captured in Afghanistan and was subjected to sleep deprivation at Gitmo day and night for two weeks. Every three hours jailers shackled and transfered him to another cell under a “frequent flier” program, forcing him to change cells 112 times.
Jawad’s defense lawyer Air Force Major David J.R. Frakt said the most likely reason Gitmo authorities tortured the youth (who had attempted suicide five months earlier) was “for sport, to teach him a lesson, perhaps to make an example of him to others.”
Officials from UNAMI, the United Nations Assistance Mission to Iran, said that children awaiting trial at severely overcrowded Tobchi prison, Baghdad, said they had been tortured and sexually abused while in custody in adult facilities prior to their transfer to Tobchi, and showed the marks to prove it. And at Karkh juvenile prison, children showed skin sores from lying on soggy mattresses in temperatures that average 112 during the day.
Former President Jimmy Carter wrote in “Our Endangered Values”(Simon & Schuster) that the Red Cross found after visiting six U.S. prisons “107 detainees under eighteen, some as young as eight years old.” And reporter Hersh, (who broke the Abu Ghraib torture scandal,) reported 800-900 Pakistani boys aged 13 to 15 in custody. President Carter wrote that the Red Cross, Amnesty International and the Pentagon “have gathered substantial testimony of torture of children, confirmed by soldiers who witnessed or participated in the abuse.”
In an effort to conceal conditions in its Iraqi compounds, the U.S. has closed them to human rights monitors such as AI, HRW, and the International Federation of Human Rights, says Ciara Gilmartin, the Security Council Program Coordinator at Global Policy Forum(GPF), a New York-based organization that seeks to strengthen international law.
GPF called for opening the Iraqi detention facilities “to national and international observers” and for establishing clear accountability for U.S. officers and contractors in charge of the prisons.
“The whole abusive system must be thoroughly overhauled or closed down,” Gilmartin said. “U.S. military and civilian leaders are not the only ones complicit in the abuse and lack of due process of Iraqi detainees. All who stay silent in the face of the Iraq gulag allow it to continue.”
In 2005, the AP reported from Geneva that UNICEF was “profoundly disturbed” by reports of abuse of children in Iraq prisons. “Any mistreatment, sexual abuse, exploitation or torture of children in detention is a violation of international law,” UNICEF spokesman Damien Peronnaz said.
According to a report by Felicity Arbuthnot published last June 9th in Global Research, the UN Special Representative for Children in Armed Conflict, Radhika Coomarswarmy, said children are not allowed any outside lawyers and may be held hostage to force an adult family male to give himself up.
HRW said that as of February of this year the length of detention for children was more than 130 days and “some children have been detained for more than a year without charge or trial, in violation of the Coalition Provisional Authority memorandum on criminal procedures. Not surprisingly, “One of the biggest complaints (by Iraqis) is that the vast majority of (U.S.) detainees have not been charged with any crime,” David Enders writes in the October 27 issue of The Nation.
Although President Bush says he reads the Bible, the words about children Matthew ascribes to Jesus may not have sunk in and so are worthy of repeating: “Who so shall offend one of these little ones…it were better that a millstone was hanged about his neck and that he were drowned in the depth of the sea.”
(Sherwood Ross is a Miami-based public relations consultant and reporter that can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org Ross compiled this article from news sources he believes to be reliable and is particularly indebted to the Glasgow, Scotland, Sunday Herald.)