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US Says More Than 500 Juveniles Detained In Iraq

A senior U.S. official tells VOA that Washington will seriously consider recommendations from a U.N. Watchdog Group regarding the detention of more than 500 juveniles by the U.S. military in Iraq. The official says the examination by the U.N. Committee on the Rights of the Child concerning U.S. compliance with treaties governing child trafficking and child soldiers was thorough and positive. Lisa Schlein reports for VOA from Geneva.

Ambassador to Combat Human Trafficking and head of the U.S. Delegation, Mark Lagon, says the 18 Committee experts asked some tough questions. But, he tells VOA the discussions were very fruitful in dispelling misunderstandings.

The committee examined U.S. compliance with two legal agreements that deal with children in armed conflict and child-trafficking. The United States and Somalia are the only two nations not to have ratified the umbrella Convention on the Rights of the Child.

Lagon says his delegation explained to the committee members why it has been necessary to detain 2,400 juveniles over time.

"It has been necessary because of recruitment by armed groups in Iraq of people into their efforts," he said. "And, when we have people detained, In Iraq we have developed special programs for their education and their health including educational programs in their own language. And, in Afghanistan, where there is a smaller population of detainees, there has been a slightly less well-developed program, but one which tries to attend to their needs."

Lagon acknowledges the U.S. currently is detaining about 500 juveniles in Iraq, suspected of being "unlawful enemy combatants."

"The policy in Iraq is not to hold someone beyond 12 months," he said. "They get one review of their situation at the six-month point and the reflexive policy is for them not to be detained for longer than a year. The Red Cross has access to all detainees, including the juveniles."

During the course of the examination, the United States noted that no more than eight juveniles between ages 13 and 17 at the time of their capture were being held at Guantanamo. At the request of the committee, the delegation said it would see whether more juveniles were being detained there.

An attorney for the American Civil Liberties Union, Jennifer Turner, describes the U.S. testimony as evasive. However, she says the delegation did reveal that most of the children in detention in Iraq and Afghanistan do not have access to lawyers.

"They are only provided access to attorneys if they have been charged with a crime," said Turner. "And a very small number of those children have been charged with crimes, according to the U.S.'s own admission."

"The U.S. said that these children are civilian internees in education camps and generally are being held for a period up to, in some cases, over one year without any criminal charges being brought against them and without ever being brought before a judge or with the benefit of an attorney representing them," she added.

The U.N. Committee will issue its final observations and recommendations in two weeks. The U.S. delegation says it welcomes the suggestions even though some of them may be uncomfortable. But, it adds, that it has a strong sense of what its legal commitments are.