Children being held at Guantanamo Bay
The news that children younger than 16 are being held in the American detention camp at Guantanamo Bay, has been met by outrage from human rights groups who condemned it as repugnant and illegal.
The US military admitted yesterday that three boys aged between 13 and 15 are among about 660 inmates at the controversial camp.
A US military official told the Guardian, on condition of anonymity, that they had been brought from Afghanistan this year on suspicion of terrorism.
The children are being held indefinitely and will not be granted access to lawyers because the US continues to view them as "enemy combatants".
The term is used to argue that the Geneva Conventions do not apply to the inmates, who have not been charged with any crimes.
As soon as their ages were confirmed in medical tests, the children were moved to a "dedicated juvenile facility" at the camp, where they could socialise with each other, according to Lieutenant Corporal Barry Johnson, a spokesman at the base.
"They are receiving specialist mental health care, in recognition of the difficult circumstances that child combatants go through, and some basic education in terms of reading and writing."
That would be the case "until we ensure that they're no longer a threat to the United States, that there's no pending law enforcement against them, that they're no longer of intelligence value," Lt Cpl Johnson said.
But holding the children was "wholly repugnant and contrary to basic principles of human rights," said Angela Wright of Amnesty International, and contravened UN rules with "near-universal acceptance" regarding the treatment of juveniles.
The United States and Somalia are the only member states of the United Nations no to have ratified the Convention on the Rights of the Child, but the US is a signatory, and thus has "an obligation not to defeat the object and purpose of the treaty," Ms Wright said.
"This is clearly totally at odds with the purpose of the treaty."
Reports of hunger strikes and attempted suicides have continued to emerge from the base. Military officials have confirmed 25 suicide attempts by 17 people since the inception of the camp, with 15 this year, often by inmates attempting to strangle themselves.
One detainee who reportedly fell into a coma after trying to hang himself was back off life support this week, Lt Cpl Johnson said, but there was no word on what the authorities would do with him next.
The Pentagon has published regulations for how the inmates, who come from 42 countries, might be tried by military tribunals, but has not yet nominated any of them for trial.
The US court of appeals ruled last month that the government was entitled to deny due legal process to the detainees because they are not Americans and are not being held on US territory.