US detained hundreds of Afghan teenagers

 A US captain is silhouetted as he looks on during a media tour of Bagram prison, north of Kabul.(AFP Photo / Massoud Hossaini)
The US military said it has captured more than 200 Afghan juveniles, whose average age is 16, and held them prisoner for about one year without charging them for any crimes.

A report to the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child said that more than 200 detainees under the age of 18 were held at a military prison at the Detention Facility in Parwan for being characterized as “enemy combatants”.

The teens had not been charged with any crimes, but were each held for an average of one year for the sole purpose of preventing “a combatant from returning to the battlefield”, the report said. Since they were not charged for any crimes, the detainees were not provided any legal assistance and could only defend themselves at open hearings.

Most of the teens were captured while they were not in uniform – and many were seized from their homes.

“We’re not talking about battlefield captures, we’re talking about people who are living at home, and four or five brothers might be taken together,” Tina M. Foster, executive director of the International Justice Network, told the Associated Press. “It might take them a year or more to figure out that one of them was younger than 18, to determine the identities of these kids.”

The average age of the captured teens was 16 – but this age is not usually determined until after their capture and it could take over a year to figure out, the report said.

But if the average age is 16, there is a high chance that some children were captured as young as 13 or 14 years old, according to Jamil Dakwar, director of the American Civil Liberties Union. Foster said she has even represented children imprisoned at Bagram that were as young as 11 or 12.

Foster believes the total number of captured juveniles in Afghanistan is greater than 200, since the State Department may not count the children who were under 18 when they were captured, but were considered adults when the report was drawn up.

“There are other children whose parents have said these children are under 18 at the time of their capture, and the US doesn’t allow the detainees or their families to contest their age,” she said.

The US government in the report justified its actions by citing a 2004 Supreme Court case, Hamdi vs. Rumsfield, which ruled that detaining enemy combatants for the duration of the conflict “is a fundamental incident of waging war” and is consistent with the Geneva Conventions.

“The law of armed conflict permits the United States to detain belligerents until the end of hostilities without charging such individuals with crimes, because they are not being held as criminals facing future criminal trial,” the court case established.

Most of these juveniles have been released or transferred to the Afghan government, the report states, without citing any figures. The US government has already handed over about 3,000 inmates to Afghan control over a six-month period ending September 10. About 600 detainees have not yet been transferred.

The report will be presented to the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child in January, alongside a delegation in Geneva that will answer any questions by the UN committee.