The Pentagon is apparently preparing to release three children held at the Guantanamo Bay detention facility for terrorist suspects.
The three children, aged 13 to 15, were detained in Afghanistan on suspicion of involvement in the fighting there, like many of the more than 600 Taleban, al-Qaida and other detainees held at Guantanamo.
The detention of the youths stirred concern among international human rights groups when it was revealed last year. The International Committee of the Red Cross has said it does not consider Guantanamo to be an appropriate place to detain juveniles. Human Rights Watch called their detention a grave risk to their well-being.
U.S. officials said it was not easy to determine accurately the youths' ages and eventually required medical tests, including bone-density scans.
They say once authorities determined the three were children, they were separated from the other terrorist suspects at the facility in Cuba and moved into their own housing.
These officials, speaking on condition of anonymity, say the commander of the detention facility has since recommended the three be released. The officials indicate to VOA that Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld has approved the releases. But they say details are still being worked out, apparently involving coordination with Afghan authorities and humanitarian groups. The actual release of the three will not be announced until after it has taken place.
Humanitarian groups, including the Red Cross, have also called for concessions for an undetermined number of other youths aged 16 and 17 who they say should be considered juveniles as well.
But the Pentagon says it regards as juveniles only those under 16. It also says age is not a determining factor in deciding who should be held as an enemy combatant.
Human Rights Watch and the Red Cross have complained that 16 and 17 year olds are being held in the main part of the Guantanamo detention facility together with the adult prisoners.
Word of the Pentagon's plans to release the three children coincides with a visit to Washington by the President of the International Committee of the Red Cross Jakob Kellenberger, to discuss Guantanamo detainee issues with U.S. officials.