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
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 soldiers 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.
Its 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.
Journalists in Germany have also been investigating the detention and abuse
of children in Iraq. One reporter, Thomas Reutter of the TV programme Report
Mainz, interviewed a US army sergeant called Samuel Provance, who is banned
from speaking about his six months stationed in Abu Ghraib but told Reutter
of how one 16-year-old Iraqi boy was arrested.
He was terribly afraid, Provance said. He had the skinniest arms Ive ever
seen. He was trembling all over. His wrists were so thin we couldnt even put
handcuffs on him. Right when I saw him for the first time, and took him for
interrogation, I felt sorry for him.
The interrogation specialists poured water over him and put him into a car.
Then they drove with him through the night, and at that time it was very,
very cold. Then they smeared him with mud and showed him to his father, who
was also in custody. They had tried out other interrogation methods on him,
but he wasnt to be brought to talk. The interrogation specialists told me,
after the father had seen his son in this state, his heart broke. He wept
and promised to tell them everything they wanted to know.
An Iraqi TV reporter Suhaib Badr-Addin al-Baz saw the Abu Ghraib childrens
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 childs father with a hood over his head. The boy
Although most of the children are held in US custody, the Sunday Herald has
established that some are held by the British Army. British soldiers tend to
arrest children in towns like Basra, which are under UK control, then hand
the youngsters over to the Americans who interrogate them and detain them.
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
organisations 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
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 theyve seen boys as young as 10 in Abu Ghraib.
The organisations leaders have called on the coalition governments to give
concrete information on how old the children are, how many are detained, why
and where they are being held, and in what circumstances they are being
detained. They also want to know if the children have been tortured.
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 dont
have good records, such as Libya, gave Amnesty access to prisons. Denying
access just fuels the rumour mill, he said.
Hodgett added that British and US troops should not be detaining any Iraqis
“ let alone children “ following the recent handover of power. They should
all be held by Iraqi authorities, he said. When the coalition handed over
Saddam they should have handed over the other 3000 detainees.
The British Ministry of Defence confirmed UK forces had handed over
prisoners to US troops, but a spokes man said he did not know the ages of
any detainees given to the Americans.
The MoD also admitted it was currently holding one prisoner aged under 18 at
Shaibah prison near Um Qasr. Since the invasion Britain has detained, and
later released, 65 under-18s. The MoD claimed the ICRC had access to British
jails and detainee lists.
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
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.
Officials would not comment about children under the age of 16 being held
prisoner. Sources said: Its a real challenge ascertaining their ages. Unlike
the UK or the US, they dont have IDs or birth certificates. The Sunday
Herald has been told, however, that at least five children aged under 16 are
being kept at Abu Ghraib and Camp Bucca.
A highly placed source in the Pentagon said: We have done investigations
into accusations of juveniles being abused and raped and cant find anything
that resembles that.
The Pentagons official policy is to segregate juvenile prisoners from the
rest of the prison population, and allow young inmates to join family
members also being detained. Our main concern is that they are not abused or
harassed by older detainees. We know they need special treatment, an
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.
The Norwegian government, which is part of the coalition of the willing, has
already said it will tell the US that the alleged torture of children is
intolerable. Odd Jostein SأŠter, parliamentary secretary at the Norwegian
prime ministers office, said: Such assaults are unacceptable. It is against
international laws and it is also unacceptable from a moral point of view.
This is why we react strongly We are addressing this in a very severe
and direct way and present concrete demands. This is damaging the struggle
for democracy and human rights in Iraq.
In Denmark, which is also in the coalition, Save the Children called on its
government to tell the occupying forces to order the immediate release of
child detainees. Neals Hurdal, head of the Danish Save the Children, said
the y had heard rumours of children in Basra being maltreated in custody
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
Unicef is profoundly disturbed by reports of children being abused in
coalition jails. Alexandra Yuster, Unicefs 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