SAN JUAN, Puerto Rico -Amnesty
International urged the United States on Wednesday to release or charge
three minors who are being held in the U.S. detention camp for terror
suspects at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.
The military has not provided exact ages, confirming only that the
three are 16 years old or younger. They are among about 660 detainees
from 42 countries held on suspicion of links to al-Qaida terrorist
network or the ousted Afghan Taliban regime.
"The detention of children in these circumstances is particularly
repugnant and flouts basic principles for the protection of children
under international law," William F. Schulz, executive director of
Amnesty International USA, said in a statement.
The group called on the U.S. military to either release them or file
formal charges and transfer them to a juvenile detention facility.
The youths are in a "communal setting" separate from adult
detainees' individual cells, but all were "captured as active
combatants against U.S. forces" and are considered enemy combatants,
said Lt. Col. Barry Johnson, chief spokesman for the Guantanamo mission.
"We are treating them differently ... because as juveniles we recognize they have special needs," he said.
Johnson would not give ages or say how many there were, only "very
few." However an official at the camp who spoke on condition of
anonymity Wednesday said there were three of them.
Schulz said reports the youths were being interrogated were especially disturbing.
Johnson said juveniles are being held because "they have potential
to provide important information in the ongoing war on terrorism."
He said they, like other detainees, could be released if it is determined they no longer pose a threat.
Johnson said all the juveniles had arrived at Guantanamo since Jan.
1. The camp received its first terror suspects in January 2001.
Human rights groups long have criticized the United States for
holding the detainees without charge and interrogating them while they
are not allowed access to lawyers.
Johnson said officials determined some detainees were 16 and younger during medical and other screenings after their arrival.
In September, Canadian officials reported that a 15-year-old
Canadian was captured on July 27 after being badly wounded in a
firefight in eastern Afghanistan. Prime Minister Jean Chretien said he
was seeking consular access to the youth.
Last week, Toronto's Globe and Mail newspaper reported that the
youth, now 16, is being held in Guantanamo and that U.S. officials have
refused access to Canadian officials. The paper quoted unidentified
sources as saying that the youth allegedly killed an American soldier
with a grenade.
Countries that have been allowed to send delegations to visit
citizens in Guantanamo include Pakistan, Bahrain, Saudi Arabia,
Britain, Russia, France, Kuwait, Yemen, Sweden and Denmark.