Child “enemy combatants” face Guantánamo hearings

Two people who were under 18 at the time of their detention by the US military in Afghanistan are facing military commission hearings in Guantánamo. Pre-trial hearings resumed this week in the cases of Mohammed Jawad and Omar Khadr.

These are the first commission hearings to take place since the US Supreme Court ruled last week that the Guantánamo detainees had the right to challenge their detention in the federal civilian courts.  Amnesty International has an observer at the hearings.

As well as challenging the legality of the proceedings, their lawyers raised disturbing allegations of torture and ill-treatment and continuing concerns about the detainees’ physical and mental health.  

Mohammed Jawad is an Afghan national who was aged 16 or 17 when detained in Kabul in December 2002. His lawyer, Air Force Major David Frakt, filed a motion to dismiss attempted murder charges against him on the ground that the US military had tortured him in Guantánamo through severe sleep deprivation and other ill-treatment.

Records revealed that Mohammed Jawad was subjected to what is known as the “frequent flyer program” in the course of a two-week period in May 2004. He was transferred to different Guantánamo cells 112 times every two hours. Mohammad Jawad had already tried to commit suicide some months before.  

At the time he was subjected to the treatment, according to his lawyer, his custody records showed he had already been determined to have “no intelligence value”. His record further showed only minor disciplinary infractions, such as calling out to fellow detainees in Pashto (his own language) while in isolation.

During his last appearance before a military commission in March, Amnesty International’s observer noted that Mohammed Jawad was visibly agitated. At one point he removed the headphones he was wearing for interpretation, saying he had a severe headache. He put his head down on the table and did not raise it again for the rest of the proceedings.  

Omar Khadr was only 15 years old when taken into US custody. The Canadian national also faces a military commission hearing today, at which the charges against him are expected to be challenged again. He is reported to have complained recently of feeling unwell and suffering dizziness, although a military health professional who visited him reported yesterday that he found him to be “in good health with no complaints or problems.”

Amnesty International’s observer made a request jointly with other NGO observers from Human Rights Watch, Human Rights First and the ACLU on Tuesday to be allowed to view the cells where Mohammed Jawad and Omar Khadr are currently held, because of concerns raised about the impact of their conditions on their mental and physical health.  No response has yet been received from the authorities to this request.

Amnesty International has said that that no-one under 18 should ever have been transferred to Guantánamo or that anyone who was a child at the time of the alleged crime should be subjected to a military commission. Apart from fundamental flaws in the proceedings generally, the commission have no juvenile justice provisions as required under international law.

Amnesty International has called on the US authorities to abandon the fundamentally unfair military commissions in all cases; to close Guantánamo promptly and either release or charge and try the detainees held there in US federal civilian courts.