Juvenile prisoners at Guantanamo Bay

June 26, 2008

This article about the way in which the United States has been treating juvenile prisoners at Guantanamo Bay is absolutely horrifying. I’m really quite at a loss for words, so I’ll let some excerpts from the article speak for themselves:

Military records showed that during a 14-day period in May 2004, Jawad was moved from cell to cell 112 times, usually left in one cell for less than three hours before being shackled and moved to another. Between midnight and 2 a.m. he was moved more frequently to ensure maximum disruption of sleep.

Such tactics used against a detainee would have been severe under any circumstances – Department of Defense guidance limits sleep deprivation to a maximum of four days – but in the case of Jawad, they are particularly disturbing because he was a scared and suicidal teenager at the time. Jawad’s military-appointed lawyer, Maj. David Frakt, described the tactics as “sadistic and pointless,” and moved to dismiss the charges against his client on grounds of torture.

The Bush administration’s refusal to treat these prisoners as juveniles has had profound consequences for Khadr, Jawad and El Gharani. They have had no access to education or recreation facilities and have been housed in the same facilities as adult detainees. After five years of imprisonment, Jawad remains functionally illiterate. None of the three have been allowed to see members of their family.

The effects of prolonged isolation have taken a severe toll. El Gharani has tried to commit suicide at least seven times. He has slit his wrist, run repeatedly into the sides of his cell and tried to hang himself. On several occasions he has been placed on suicide watch in a mental health unit.

Jawad also tried to commit suicide about 11 months after arriving in Guantánamo, by hanging himself by his shirt collar. Prison records also state that he “attempted self-harm by banging his head off of metal structures inside his cell.”

International law does not preclude the possibility of prosecuting former child soldiers for serious criminal offenses. But the standards are very clear: Such cases should be handled as quickly as possible through specialized juvenile justice systems. Rehabilitation must be the primary objective, and conditions of detention must include access to family, education, recreation and other special assistance.

On every count, the U.S. has failed at Guantánamo to meet these requirements.

The behavior of the authorities in charge of these prisoners is simply beyond my understanding of what it means to be human. I find it hard to comprehend how anyone could view another human being with such an utter lack of compassion. How can the us vs. them mentality, that sees a less-than-human enemy rather than a fellow human being, take someone over so completely?

I believe in rehabilitation for criminals of ALL ages, not just juveniles, and I believe that it is never acceptable to treat someone in an inhumane manner. But somehow it seems even worse when it is juveniles – kids who were probably brainwashed and/or threatened into joining with the terrorists to begin with. Is it any surprise that in such circumstances and under such treatment they become suicidal? I have no doubt that if/when they are released they will be in a much worse state psychologically than before being imprisoned, and will probably be even more likely to commit terrorist acts in the future.