Former child soldier released from Gitmo

By John Felton, CQ Global Researcher Author
August 25, 2009

The U.S. military has released and returned to Afghanistan one of two young Muslim men who may have been juveniles when they were imprisoned at the Guantánamo Bay detention center in Cuba. Mohammad Jawad, who reportedly was only 16 or 17 years old when he was captured in Afghanistan in December 2002, arrived back in Afghanistan on August 24. Just one day later, he told Reuters news service that he had been tortured and humiliated during the nearly seven years he spent at Guantánamo. "There was a lot of oppression when I was in Guantánamo and these inhumane actions were not for just one day, one week or one month," Reuters quoted him as saying at his family home south of Kabul.

Jawad's case was one of the most troublesome for the Pentagon of all the hundreds of men who have been held at Guantánamo since early 2002. For starters, he probably was under-age when he was captured—a status that led Human Rights Watch, the American Civil Liberties Union, and other organizations to demand that he be considered a child soldier and either be released or transferred to a civilian court. Human rights groups also called for special consideration for Omar Ahmed Khadr, a Canadian citizen who reportedly was only 15 when captured in Afghanistan and sent to Guantánamo.

Both the Jawad and Khadr cases were featured in the July 2008 issue of CQ Global Researcher on the role of child soldiers in modern combat.

There were also many questions about the evidence backing up the charge against Jawad: that he threw a grenade into a vehicle carrying two U.S. soldiers and their Afghan interpreter. Jawad allegedly confessed to Afghan police that he threw the grenade, which wounded the soldiers. Afghan authorities turned him over to the U.S. military, which sent him to Guantánamo early in 2003.

Jawad's lawyers at Guantánamo said the confession had been extracted as the result of torture. On Oct. 28, 2008, a U.S. military judge, Col. Stephen R. Henley, agreed with the lawyers and ordered Jawad's Dec. 12, 2002 confession suppressed on the grounds that it had been elicited by torture: "The Military Commission concludes that the Accused’s statements to the Afghan authorities were obtained by physical intimidation and threats of death which, under the circumstances, constitute torture..." under the rules of evidence for the military commissions.

Jawad's case then moved to a U.S. District Court in Washington, where Judge
Ellen Segal Huvelle on July 16 said the government had "no evidence" against him. The government dropped its charges against Jawad on July 31, and nearly four weeks later put him on a plane to Afghanistan.

Omar Khadr remains at Guantánamo, partly because the Canadian government does not appear to want him back. A Canadian federal appeals court on August 15 ordered the government to seek Khadr's repatriation, but a government spokeswoman said later that the ruling would be appealed because Khadr had been accused of serious crimes, including killing a U.S. soldier.