The Journal of History     Summer 2004    TABLE OF CONTENTS

The World's

Children in Iraqi prisons
Human rights groups demand immediate access to children held as criminals or 'security detainees.'

by Tom Regan Jim Bencivenga--> Matthew Clark-->|
August 4, 2004 The Sunday Herald of Scotland reported this week on its own investigation into allegations that more than 100 children, some as young as 10 years-old, are being detained by coalition forces in Iraq under suspicion of "alleged activities targeting the occupying forces." Many of the children are being held in a special wing at the Abu Ghraib prison in Baghdad. The Herald's story includes allegations that some of the children were abused, tortured, or raped, by coalition and Iraqi soldiers.

An Iraqi TV reporter Suhaib Badr-Addin al-Baz saw the Abu Ghraib children’s 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.'"

A report run on the German TV program Report Mainz (video) in July on the same topic included an interview with US Sgt. Samuel Provance. Sgt. Provance was one of the original whistleblowers who said US troops were abusing prisoners at Abu Ghraib. Provance has since been transferred to Germany. He says he was ordered by his superiors not to talk to the media any more. In May, Provance said he was told by Army officials that he may be prosecuted because his statements were "not in the national interest."

Provance, however, did talk to the German TV crew about the treatment of children at Abu Ghraib. He alleges that children were sometimes abused in order to force their parents to give information to coalition authorities. Provance spoke about one incident in which he says he witnessed this happening with a 16 year-old boy.

He was full of fear, very alone. He had the thinnest little arms that I have ever seen. His whole body shook. His wrists were so thin that we could not put handcuffs on him. As soon as I saw him for the first time and led him to the interrogation, I felt sorry for him. The interrogation specialists doused him with water and put him in a truck. Then they drove with him throughout the night, and at that time it was very, very cold. Then they smeared him with mud and showed him to his likewise imprisoned father. With him [the father] they had tried out other interrogation methods. But they had not succeeded in making him talk. The interrogation specialists told me that after the father had seen his son in that condition, it broke his heart. He wept and promised to tell them what they wanted to know., an information website run by the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, reports that "access to child detainees is difficult and human rights groups are concerned about their welfare ...." An IRIN reporter visited the Karkh prison in Baghdad, where the warden told him that there are 150 children between the ages of nine and 18 "are being held there on any given day, both those convicted of crimes and those awaiting trial."

The IRIN story also quotes US Lt. Col. Barry Johnson, a spokesman for the Office of the Deputy Commanding General for Detainee Operations, who says that 58 children are being held at Abu Ghraib as "security detainees."

But Karkh warden Wali Jaleel Jabar says the story is more complicated than it would seem on the surface.

Jabar pointed out, however, that some of the children were in jail for very serious crimes. Some 30 of them are in prison for killings, mostly of family members. Another 34 have committed armed robbery. All children in the prison have been sent there since the US-led invasion last April. All previous inmates in Iraq were let free by their jailers as US troops advanced into the country. No matter how well the children are treated, they can still exhibit dangerous behavior in their late teens, however, Jabar said. Children aged between nine and 14 were recently separated from the 15 to 18-year-olds on the recommendation of US advisers, the detention center warden said.

Jabar also says his prison "has 20 social workers, doctors and medical assistants, and five teachers ... Anyone accused of beating a child is investigated and can be fired."

While most US media have not covered the allegations about children in Iraqi prisons, there have been stories about US troops who have made an effort to connect with the children of Iraq. The Republican of western Massachusetts tells the story of US troops invited to attend a dinner thrown in their honor by Iraqis who wanted to thank them for building an elementary school in their town.

A Fort Hood First Cavalry soldier sent an e-mail asking for shoes, because so many young people in Iraq don't have them. More than 2000 pairs were donated in Texas and Georgia. The Oregonian reported in late July that the command sergeant major of the Oregon Army National Guard has sent out a similar request for school supplies for Iraqi children.

Meanwhile, the Institute for War and Peace Reporting recently wrote about 30 Iraqi children who are being trained as young journalists, much to the dismay of their parents and the authorities. The children have used their new found skills to write about "child abuse in the home, violence against children in the schools, and of an antiquated and ineffective educational system."

Finally, The Raleigh News and Observer reports on the "Article 32" hearing at Fort Bragg, North Carolina to determine if Pfc. Lynndie England, one of the US soldiers accused of abusing prisoners at Abu Ghraib, will be court-martialed. Military investigators said Tuesday that Pfc. England was "acting independently" and not under orders from superiors when she posed with naked Iraqi prisoners. The investigators, however, also described the organization at Abu Ghraib as chaotic. Many units were "ad hoc" he said, with soldiers falling under different commanders, creating confusion about the chain-of-command.

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Editor's note: I have received this identical news from several other sources including an American woman who spent time in Iraq. Therefore, there is no doubt that this information is true.



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