Obama Administration Hypocrisy on Children’s Rights

Posted on July 25, 2009


I don’t think any other case highlights the depth of moral depravity guiding US detention policies more than that of Mohammed Jawad, a child arrested and imprisoned by the US since 2002. Yesterday, even a federal judge was unable to hide her disgust with US military detention policies as she excoriated prosecutors when they admitted they had been holding Jawad for seven years based on evidence obtained by torturing him:

The federal judge, Ellen Segal Huvelle of Federal District Court in Washington, reacted furiously last week after government lawyers conceded that much of their evidence to justify Mr. Jawad’s detention consisted of statements he had made that a military judge had previously ruled were obtained after he was tortured. Government lawyers said they would no longer rely on those statements.

Rather than drop the charges and repatriate Jawad to Afghanistan, the Holder Justice Department will continue to hold Jawad in Guantanamo while DOJ prosecutors consider how to bring charges against him in a US civilian court. What raises this story beyond the level of obscenity that we’ve become used to concering detainees is that it was recently revealed that Jawad was not 16, as was originally believed when he was captured, imprisoned and tortured, but closer to 12! From a New York Times blurb of a story, two months ago:

An Afghan who has spent over six years at the American military prison at Guantánamo Bay was only about 12 when he was detained…interviews with the family of Mohammed Jawad, who like many poor Afghans does not know his exact age or birthday, showed he was probably not even a teenager when he was arrested in 2002, the Afghan Independent Human Rights Commission said.

The Afghan Independent Human Rights Commission continues to demand the return of Jawad, but has been consistently rebuffed. This would violate the UN Convention of the Rights of the Child, which, among many other things, makes torture and indefinite detention of children illegal.

The US detention of Jawad violates whole swaths of the UNCRC, [read portions of it at the end of this article]. Since humans are considered under international law to be children until the age of 18, the same was true when he was ostensibly believed to be 16. But the fact that he may have been as young as 12, really highlights the inhuman depths that our current justice system has sunk to–indeed, Jawad may still be a child by the standards of international law.  Ironically, though the US has never ratified the UNCRC  [though it was signed by Clinton and the Reagan Adminsitration even wrote many of the provisions], Obama made special mention of it in the Walden University Youth Debate in 2008. claiming that it was embarrassing that the US and Somalia were the only countries that hadn’t ratified the treaty. Obama claimed:

I will review this and other treaties and make sure that the United States resumes it leadership in human rights.

Well, this would be a good place to start.


From the Convention of the Rights of the Child:

States Parties shall ensure that:

(a) No child shall be subjected to torture or other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment. Neither capital punishment nor life imprisonment without possibility of release shall be imposed for offences committed by persons below eighteen years of age;

(b) No child shall be deprived of his or her liberty unlawfully or arbitrarily. The arrest, detention or imprisonment of a child shall be in conformity with the law and shall be used only as a measure of last resort and for the shortest appropriate period of time;

(c) Every child deprived of liberty shall be treated with humanity and respect for the inherent dignity of the human person, and in a manner which takes into account the needs of persons of his or her age. In particular, every child deprived of liberty shall be separated from adults unless it is considered in the child’s best interest not to do so and shall have the right to maintain contact with his or her family through correspondence and visits, save in exceptional circumstances;

(d) Every child deprived of his or her liberty shall have the right to prompt access to legal and other appropriate assistance, as well as the right to challenge the legality of the deprivation of his or her liberty before a court or other competent, independent and impartial authority, and to a prompt decision on any such action.

Article 39

States Parties shall take all appropriate measures to promote physical and psychological recovery and social reintegration of a child victim of: any form of neglect, exploitation, or abuse; torture or any other form of cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment; or armed conflicts. Such recovery and reintegration shall take place in an environment which fosters the health, self-respect and dignity of the child.

Article 40

2. To this end, and having regard to the relevant provisions of international instruments, States Parties shall, in particular, ensure that:

(b) Every child alleged as or accused of having infringed the penal law has at least the following guarantees:

(i) To be presumed innocent until proven guilty according to law;

(ii) To be informed promptly and directly of the charges against him or her, and, if appropriate, through his or her parents or legal guardians, and to have legal or other appropriate assistance in the preparation and presentation of his or her defence;

(iii) To have the matter determined without delay by a competent, independent and impartial authority or judicial body in a fair hearing according to law, in the presence of legal or other appropriate assistance and, unless it is considered not to be in the best interest of the child, in particular, taking into account his or her age or situation, his or her parents or legal guardians;

Also, see this CRS report on the current state of the Convention in the US.

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