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U.S. Has Detained 2,500 Juveniles as Enemy Combatants

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Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, May 15, 2008; Page A11

The United States has detained approximately 2,500 people younger than 18 as illegal enemy combatants in Iraq, Afghanistan and Guantanamo Bay since 2002, according to a report filed by the Bush administration with the United Nations Committee on the Rights of the Child.

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Although 2,400 of the juveniles were captured in Iraq after the U.S.-led invasion in March 2003, only 500 are still held in detention facilities in that country. The administration's report, which was made public yesterday by the American Civil Liberties Union, says that most of the detained Iraqi youths were "engaging in anti-coalition activity."

As of last month, 10 juveniles were still being held in Bagram, Afghanistan, out of 90 that had been captured in that country since 2002, according to the report.

Eight juveniles were brought to Guantanamo Bay since 2002, having been captured at ages ranging from 13 to 17. Although there are no juveniles at the prison in Cuba now, two people being held -- 21-year-old Omar Khadr and 23-year-old Mohammed Jawad -- were under 18 when they arrived. Both are facing trial by a military commission on charges of attempted murder.

Three of the other six juveniles once held at Guantanamo were sent back to Afghanistan in 2004, where they were put into a UNICEF rehabilitation program for child soldiers, according to the report. The last three juveniles were transferred back to their home countries.

The ACLU decried what is described as a "lack of safeguards" for youths captured by the U.S. military and "no comprehensive policy in place" for dealing with juveniles.

"Juveniles and former child soldiers should be treated first and foremost as candidates for rehabilitation and reintegration into society, not subjected to further victimization," Jamil Dakwar, director of the ACLU's human rights program, said in a statement.

In Iraq, where the U.S. military holds more than 20,000 Iraqis in detention centers, the United States reported the average stay of a juvenile as less than a year and said a "majority of juvenile detainees are released within six months."

A "very small percentage," however, have been kept for more than a year because the juveniles were "assessed to be of a high enough threat level," the report said.

In August 2007, the U.S. military established a juvenile education center in Iraq. At that time, 820 juveniles were held in detention facilities in Iraq. In February, according to the U.S. report, a plan was approved to improve education programs available to juvenile detainees.

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