We are torturing children at Abu Ghraib, and the Bush Administration does not want to be held accountable. Please read to the end to see the horrific accounts of the suffering we are inflicting on ten year olds.
Two Republican Senators roused the ire of the White House last week by pushing for legislation that would have set rules for the treatment and interrogation of terrorism suspects in U.S. custody. Senators John McCain of Arizona and Lindsay Graham of South Carolina introduced the legislation on Monday July 25 and tacked it onto the $491 billion 2006 Defense bill.
Said McCain on the Senate floor: “What we’re trying to do here is make sure there are clear and exact standards set for interrogation of prisoners … To fight terrorism, we must obtain intelligence, but we have to ensure that it’s reliable and acquired in a way that’s humane.”
It doesn’t sound like a big deal. After all we have long been assured by the Bush Administration and by the military that incidents of torture and abuse that have occurred at places like Guantanamo and Abu Ghraeb prison were aberrations by a small group of soldiers operating on their own, and that this in no way reflected U.S. policy. … BELOW:
According to Associated Press:
Talk of legislation regulating U.S. treatment of terror suspects has percolated on Capitol Hill since last year when the Abu Ghraib prison abuse scandal in Iraq surfaced.
But the effort by leading Republicans to standardize treatment of terror suspects has gained steam over the past few months. Criticism by human-rights groups and lawmakers over the military’s detainee camp in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, reached a fever pitch this spring amid fresh allegations of abuse and torture there.
One of McCain’s amendments would make interrogation techniques outlined in the Army field manual — and any future versions of it — the standard for treatment of all detainees in the Defense Department’s custody. The United States also would have to register all detainees in Defense Department facilities with the Red Cross to ensure all are accounted for.
Another McCain amendment would expressly prohibit cruel, inhumane and degrading treatment of prisoners in U.S. custody no matter where they are held.
McCain also supports a pair of amendments Democrats are likely to sponsor prohibiting the United States from exporting terror suspects to countries that are known to torture prisoners, and requiring the United States to register with the Red Cross detainees held outside of Defense Department facilities.
One would think this wasn’t a big deal since torture and abuse are not, after all official U.S. policy, but the Bush administration would have none of it. Again, according to Associated Press:
Cheney met with the three Republican lawmakers just off the Senate floor… That followed an administration statement that President Bush’s advisers would recommend a veto of the overall bill if amendments were added that restricted the president’s ability to conduct the war on terrorism and protect Americans.
By Tuesday July 26th the McCain/Lindsay effort was gaining considerable steam and seemed assured of passage. Several leading Republicans beat back an effort by Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist to block the amendment. Graham and McCain joined with Senators John Warner of Virgina and Olympia Snow of Vermont to add an amendment that would prohibit cruel, inhumane or degrading treatment of prisoners and would require the United States to abide by the Geneva Convention and other international agreements on the treatment of prisoners.
But the White House had already made it clear that it regarded the legislation as “restricting the president’s ability to conduct the war effectively under existing law,” and so Senator Frist abrubtly stopped debate and pulled the bill from consideration rather than risk an embarrassing defeat for the White House.
One might argue that none of this really matters, but now comes this gut-wrenching piece from yesterday’s Sunday London Herald which I excerpt below:
Iraq’s Child Prisoners
A Sunday Herald investigation has discovered that coalition forces are holding more than 100 children in jails such as Abu Ghraib. Witnesses claim that the detainees – some as young as 10 – are also being subjected to rape and torture
It was early last October that Kasim Mehaddi Hilas says he witnessed the rape of a boy prisoner aged about 15 in the notorious Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq. “The kid was hurting very bad and they covered all the doors with sheets,” he said in a statement given to investigators probing prisoner abuse in Abu Ghraib. “Then, when I heard the screaming I climbed the door … and I saw [the soldier’s name is deleted] who was wearing a military uniform.” Hilas, who was himself threatened with being sexually assaulted in Abu Graib, then describes in horrific detail how the soldier raped “the little kid”.
In another witness statement, passed to the Sunday Herald, former prisoner Thaar Salman Dawod said: “[I saw] two boys naked and they were cuffed together face to face and [a US soldier] was beating them and a group of guards were watching and taking pictures and there was three female soldiers laughing at the prisoners. The prisoners, two of them, were young.”
It’s not certain exactly how many children are being held by coalition forces in Iraq, but a Sunday Herald investigation suggests there are up to 107. Their names are not known, nor is where they are being kept, how long they will be held or what has happened to them during their detention.
Proof of the widespread arrest and detention of children in Iraq by US and UK forces is contained in an internal Unicef report written in June. The report has – surprisingly – not been made public. A key section on child protection, headed “Children in Conflict with the Law or with Coalition Forces”, reads: “In July and August 2003, several meetings were conducted with CPA (Coalition Provisional Authority) … and Ministry of Justice to address issues related to juvenile justice and the situation of children detained by the coalition forces … Unicef is working through a variety of channels to try and learn more about conditions for children who are imprisoned or detained, and to ensure that their rights are respected.”
Another section reads: “Information on the number, age, gender and conditions of incarceration is limited. In Basra and Karbala children arrested for alleged activities targeting the occupying forces are reported to be routinely transferred to an internee facility in Um Qasr. The categorisation of these children as `internees’ is worrying since it implies indefinite holding without contact with family, expectation of trial or due process.”
The report also states: “A detention centre for children was established in Baghdad, where according to ICRC (International Committee of the Red Cross) a significant number of children were detained. Unicef was informed that the coalition forces were planning to transfer all children in adult facilities to this `specialised’ child detention centre. In July 2003, Unicef requested a visit to the centre but access was denied. Poor security in the area of the detention centre has prevented visits by independent observers like the ICRC since last December.
“The perceived unjust detention of Iraqi males, including youths, for suspected activities against the occupying forces has become one of the leading causes for the mounting frustration among Iraqi youths and the potential for radicalisation of this population group.”
…An Iraqi TV reporter Suhaib Badr-Addin al-Baz saw the Abu Ghraib children’s wing when he was arrested by Americans while making a documentary. He spent 74 days in Abu Ghraib.
“I saw a camp for children there,” he said. “Boys, under the age of puberty. There were certainly hundreds of children in this camp.” Al-Baz said he heard a 12-year-old girl crying. Her brother was also held in the jail. One night guards came into her cell. “She was beaten,” said al-Baz. “I heard her call out, `They have undressed me. They have poured water over me.'”
He says he heard her cries and whimpering daily – this, in turn, caused other prisoners to cry as they listened to her. Al-Baz also told of an ill 15-year-old boy who was soaked repeatedly with hoses until he collapsed. Guards then brought in the child’s father with a hood over his head. The boy collapsed again.
…Between January and May this year the Red Cross registered a total of 107 juveniles in detention during 19 visits to six coalition prisons. The aid organisation’s Rana Sidani said they had no complete information about the ages of those detained, or how they had been treated. The deteriorating security situation has prevented the Red Cross visiting all detention centres.
Amnesty International is outraged by the detention of children. It is aware of “numerous human rights violations against Iraqi juveniles, including detentions, torture and ill-treatment, and killings”. Amnesty has interviewed former detainees who say they’ve seen boys as young as 10 in Abu Ghraib.
…Alistair Hodgett, media director of Amnesty International USA, said the coalition forces needed to be “transparent” about their policy of child detentions, adding: “Secrecy is one thing that rings alarm bells.” Amnesty was given brief access to one jail in Mosul, he said, but has been repeatedly turned away from all others. He pointed out that even countries “which don’t have good records”, such as Libya, gave Amnesty access to prisons. “Denying access just fuels the rumour mill,” he said.
…High-placed officials in the Pentagon and Centcom told the Sunday Herald that children as young as 14 were being held by US forces. “We do have juveniles detained,” a source said. “They have been detained as they are deemed to be a threat or because they have acted against the coalition or Iraqis.”
Officially, the Pentagon says it is holding “around 60 juvenile detainees primarily aged 16 and 17”, although when it was pointed out that the Red Cross estimate is substantially higher, a source admitted “numbers may have gone up, we might have detained more kids”.
…Pentagon sources said they were unaware how long child prisoners were kept in jail but said their cases were reviewed every 90 days. The last review was early last month. The sources confirmed the children had been questioned and interrogated when initially detained, but could not say whether this was “an adult-style interrogation”.
…Human Rights Watch (HRW) said it was “extremely disturbed” that the coalition was holding children for long periods in jails notorious for torture. HRW also criticised the policy of categorising children as “security detainees”, saying this did not give carte blanche for them to be held indefinitely. HRW said if there was evidence the children had committed crimes then they should be tried in Iraqi courts, otherwise they should be returned to their families.
Unicef is “profoundly disturbed” by reports of children being abused in coalition jails. Alexandra Yuster, Unicef’s senior adviser on child detention, said that under international law children should be detained only as a last resort and only then for the shortest possible time.
They should have access to lawyers and their families, be kept safe, healthy, educated, well-fed and not be subjected to any form of mental or physical punishment, she added. Unicef is now “desperately” trying to get more information on the fate of the children currently detained in coalition jails.