Just as the U.S.-led forces refused to release thousands of adult prisoners after the June 28 handover of partial sovereignty to Iraq, U.S. and UK authorities continue to incarcerate children.
The Pentagon says around 60 teens, "primarily aged 16 and 17," are still being detained, though unnamed sources at the Pentagon and U.S. Central Command (CentCom) said some prisoners are as young as 14 years old, according to Scotland’s Sunday Herald. The British Ministry of Defense also admitted that it had interned minors, and that one was still in custody.
The International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) documented the imprisonment of up to 107 children as of this May and revealed mistreatment of some young prisoners, according to German television show Report Mainz.
UNICEF, the UN’s fund for children, issued a confidential report in June on the matter, acknowledging that it held "several meetings" with the Coalition Provisional Authority (CPA) and Iraq’s Ministry of Justice last summer "to address issues related to juvenile justice and the situation of children detained by the coalition forces."
Despite sworn testimony from eyewitnesses, a "highly placed source in the Pentagon" told the Sunday Herald that investigations have found no evidence that children interned in Iraq have been mistreated. This directly contradicted sworn statements from witnesses given to Army investigators in January, as well as the recent statements of investigative journalist Seymour Hersh.
In a speech on July 7, Hersh confirmed rumors that children and women were raped on camera at Abu Ghraib prison. His remarks, made during an address before the American Civil Liberties Union, implied that he had personally seen some of the footage.
"And basically what happened is that those women who were arrested with young boys, children, in cases that have been recorded, the boys were sodomized, with the cameras rolling," Hersh told the audience in San Francisco, "and the worst above all of them is the soundtrack of the boys shrieking."
"We have done investigations into accusations of juveniles being abused and raped and can’t find anything resembling that," an unnamed "Pentagon official" told the Sunday Herald.
Nevertheless, details of the known child abuse cases are slowly emerging, primarily in the European media. Stories in the mainstream American press have focused on abuse and torture of adults, often skimming over U.S. soldiers’ possible actions against their younger captives, with a few exceptions
In a May 21 piece on the previously unreported witness statements from Abu Ghraib prisoners, the Washington Post reported the account of detainee Kasim Mehaddi Hilas. According to the Post, Hilas, whom American personnel had been beaten, stripped, photographed and threatened with sexual assault, also witnessed a teenage boy being raped in October 2003 at Abu Ghraib by someone the Post identified as "an Army translator."
Curiously, the paragraph following the account begins, "Hilas, like other detainees interviewed by the military, said he could not identify some of the soldiers because they either covered their name patches or did not wear uniforms." The implication is that Hilas did not know the assailant’s name.
The Post‘s website hosts links to the 14 sworn statements taken by Army investigators in January. Hilas’ actual statement, excerpted in the Sunday Herald, reveals that Hilas actually did name the assailant, but notes that the soldier’s name has been is censored from the report.
In fact, the copy carried on the Post‘s site shows this deletion to Hilas’ statement, which makes no mention of an Army translator, only the rapist: "I saw [deleted] who was wearing the military uniform," adding that a female soldier was taking pictures. This deletion is significant because both his statement and the Post story do name some U.S. personnel involved with abusing adult prisoners.
According to Rolling Stone, Abu Hamid is the name of the translator who raped the teenage boy. "I saw Abu Hamid, who was wearing the military uniform, putting his dick in the little kid’s ass," reads Rolling Stone‘s July 28 story, though the name was not reported by the Sunday Herald weeks later.
The Sunday Herald did report the statement of detainee Thaar Salman Dawod, mentioned in neither the Washington Post‘s nor Rolling Stone‘s articles, who recounted his own abuse at Abu Ghraib and said he witnessed "a lot of people getting naked for a few days getting punished in the first days of Ramadan."
According to Dawod’s statement which can be found on the Post‘s website but was not reported in May two boys were brought in to the cellblock, naked and "cuffed together face to face, and Graner [Specialist Charles A. Graner, Jr., of the 372nd Military Police Company] was beating them and a group of guards were watching and taking pictures from top and bottom and there was three female soldiers laughing at the prisoners. The prisoners, two of them, were young. I don’t know their names."
The Post did report the account of a third abused prisoner who also witnessed mistreatment of a child in Abu Ghraib. According to that paper’s retelling of prisoner Mohanded Juma’s statement: "American soldiers brought a father and his son into the cellblock. [Juma] said the soldiers put hoods over their heads and removed their clothes."
The Post‘s version then directly quotes the witness’s statement: "When the son saw his father naked he was crying. He was crying because of seeing his father."
But even this incident is misrepresented. According to Juma’s statement again carried on the Post‘s own website the father and son were brought into the cellblock already naked: "They put them in front of each other and they counted 1-2-3, and then removed the bags from their heads."
Hersh said in his speech last month that the U.S. government is terrified that the photographs and video evidence proving the abuse and rape of children will come out.
"I can tell you some of the personal stories of some of the people who were in these units who witnessed this," Hersh commented. "I can also tell you written complaints were made to the highest officers. And so we’re dealing with an enormous, massive amount of criminal wrongdoing that was covered up at the highest command out there and higher."
Army investigator Major General Antonio M. Taguba stated in a February 2004 report that all of the above witnesses’ accounts were "found to be credible based on the clarity of their statements and supporting evidence provided by other witnesses." Months later, it is not known that any action has been taken against the translator or guards apparently implicated in the Army’s own reports.