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Human Rights Advocates Urge Holder To Address Problem of Child Soldiers Imprisoned at Guantanamo

When President Obama declared early in his presidency that he plans to close the prison at Guantanamo Bay, that was hardly the end of the matter. Obama and Attorney General Eric Holder must now figure out what to do with the 240 or so people still held there. And perhaps no cases cry out more urgently for attention than those of the young men abducted abroad as teenagers, and now held at Gitmo for more than six years.

As I’ve written previously, for some, that’s more than a quarter of their entire lives.

To keep the pressure on the administration to do something about this, Human Rights Watch today sent a letter to Holder, setting out some of the more gruesome details of the men’s cases — and the fact that their treatment appears to violate international standards of juvenile justice.

According to Human Rights Watch: “International treaty law and accepted juvenile justice norms require governments to provide children (defined as persons under the age of 18) with special safeguards and care.” Juveniles are supposed to be held for the shortest time possible; their cases should be handled as “speedily as possible”; and rehabilitation should be the primary goal. They’re also supposed to be separated from adults, allowed contact with their families, and be given special care and rehabilitative assistance.

That’s not happening.

Among the men who were picked up as children and are still being held at Gitmo are Mohammad El Gharani, arrested when he was 15-years-old in a mosque in Pakistan on evidence a judge later said was too thin to justify holding him; Mohammad Jawad, detained at age 16 or 17 for allegedly throwing a grenade at a U.S. army vehicle in Afghanistan, to which he “confessed” under torture; Omar Khadr, a Canadian arrested at 15 and held in prolonged solitary confinement and used “as a “human mop” after he urinated on the floor during an interrogation session”; Mohammad Khan Tumani, held in solitary confinement and subjected to a range of physical and psychological abuses since age 17, and denied access to his father, also imprisoned at Guantanamo; and Fahd Abdullah Ahmed Ghazi, a Yemeni arrested at when he was 17 — who’s been at Gitmo for more than seven years and has been cleared to leave for over a year now but must wait for the United States to reach an agreement with Yemen for his return.

Not surprisingly, many have tried to commit suicide multiple times and in a variety of gruesome ways — slitting their wrists, banging their heads against walls — and show clear signs of dramatic mental deterioration.

They are, as I’ve noted before, among many men stuck in legal limbo as they await rulings on their cases. It’s a problem that was created by the arguably illegal indefinite detentention policies and extreme executive power claims of the Bush administration; unfortunately for President Obama, it’s now fallen to his administration to resolve.

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