Thousands of children around the world have suffered pain and distress as a result of US counter-terror policies and practices.
Some have been held in indefinite virtually incommunicado detention without charge or trial. Some have been subjected to torture or other cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment. And many others still at home are tormented by the absence of their fathers, brothers and other relatives who themselves have been subjected to indefinite detention, in many cases for years.
The US authorities are believed to have held at least 17 children at Guantánamo Bay. Four of them, possibly more, remain there. They are Mohammed al-Gharani and Omar Khadr, who were 15 when detained, Hassan bin Attash, aged 17 when taken, and Yousef al-Shehri, aged 16.
"Sometimes I feel like going out to Bush and say ‘What the hell do you think you are doing’? And sometimes I just feel that maybe I should leave it alone".
Zahra Paracha, 14 year-old daughter of Guantánamo detainee Saifullah Paracha
Another detainee, Yassar al-Zahrani, was reportedly 17 when he was detained. He died in Guantánamo in June 2006, after apparently hanging himself.
Only three of the children held in Guantánamo were separated from the adult detainees, though international law requires special protections for under 18 year olds in detention. The others have been detained in the same harsh conditions as adults, including prolonged solitary confinement, isolation from their families and with no access to education.
All those who were taken into custody when still children and transferred to Guantánamo are now over 18 years old. This does not alter the fact that their earlier treatment violated international principles on the treatment of children.
"As with all detainees, these juveniles were considered enemy combatants that posed a threat to US security. Age is not a determining factor in detention." US Department of Defence, January 2004.
Guantánamo is a symbol of injustice. The US government must close it down. All detainees must be released, or charged and given a fair trial.
The Convention of the Rights of the Child
International law recognizes the particular vulnerabilities of children. The Convention of the Rights of the Child, for example, protects children from indefinite detention and ill-treatment.
The USA has signed this treaty and is obliged under international law
not to do anything that would undermine its object and purpose. Apart
from Somalia, the USA is the only country in the world that has not yet
ratified the Convention.