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Tracking Torture Coverage: The Lost Boys of Guantánamo

 by David Schimke


Tags: Torture, Quantanamo, Human Rights Watch, Sleep Deprivation, Juvenile Justice,

Between 2000 and 2003, more than 20 prisoners under the age of 18 were held at Guantánamo. In early 2004, pressured by human rights organizations, Pentagon officials released most of the juveniles—first to a separate facility at the base, then to a rehabilitation program in Afghanistan. But the three that remain have spent a quarter of their lives behind bars and are subjected to the same harsh interrogation tactics as their adult cellmates, a policy that, according to a recent piece posted on Salon, “defies logic as well as international law.”

The story, written by Jo Becker, advocacy director for the Children’s Rights Division at Human Rights Watch, begins with testimony from Mohammed Jawad, who faces the death penalty and is currently being tried as an adult at the naval base for throwing a grenade at a military convoy in Afghanistan on December 17, 2002, severely injuring two U.S. soldiers and their Afghan translator. A 17-year-old suicide risk when first interrogated, the still functionally illiterate Jawad described a “litany of abuses” on the stand, “including a sleep deprivation regime know colloquially as the ‘frequent flyer’ program.”

“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,” Becker writes. “Between midnight and 2 a.m. he was moved more frequently to ensure maximum disruption of sleep.”

This sort of treatment, already out of bounds (the Department of Defense limits sleep deprivation to a maximum of four days), is especially disconcerting considering that Jawad’s court-appointed lawyer has long contended that his client was a child soldier protected by an international treaty signed by President Clinton in 2000. And it represents just “one of various ways in which the Bush administration's policies have tainted prospects for Guantánamo detainees ever to be brought to justice under U.S. law.”

Click here for Utne’s Special Online Project: Tracking Torture Coverage.