SAN JUAN, Puerto Rico — Amnesty International urged the United States on Wednesday to release or charge three minors who are being held in the U.S. detention camp for terror suspects at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.
The military has not provided exact ages, confirming only that the three are 16 years old or younger. They are among about 660 detainees from 42 countries held on suspicion of links to al-Qaida terrorist network or the ousted Afghan Taliban regime.
“The detention of children in these circumstances is particularly repugnant and flouts basic principles for the protection of children under international law,” William F. Schulz, executive director of Amnesty International USA, said in a statement.
The group called on the U.S. military to either release them or file formal charges and transfer them to a juvenile detention facility.
The youths are in a “communal setting” separate from adult detainees’ individual cells, but all were “captured as active combatants against U.S. forces” and are considered enemy combatants, said Lt. Col. Barry Johnson, chief spokesman for the Guantanamo mission.
“We are treating them differently … because as juveniles, we recognize they have special needs,” he said.
Johnson would not give ages or say how many there were, only “very few.” However, an official at the camp who spoke on condition of anonymity Wednesday said there were three of them.
Schulz said reports the youths were being interrogated were especially disturbing.
Johnson said juveniles are being held because “they have potential to provide important information in the ongoing war on terrorism.”
He said they, like other detainees, could be released if it is determined they no longer pose a threat.
Johnson said all the juveniles had arrived at Guantanamo since Jan. 1. The camp received its first terror suspects in January 2001.
Human rights groups long have criticized the United States for holding the detainees without charge and interrogating them while they are not allowed access to lawyers.
Johnson said officials determined some detainees were 16 and younger during medical and other screenings after their arrival.
In September, Canadian officials reported that a 15-year-old Canadian was captured on July 27 after being badly wounded in a firefight in eastern Afghanistan. Prime Minister Jean Chretien said he was seeking consular access to the youth.
Last week, Toronto’s Globe and Mail newspaper reported that the youth, now 16, is being held in Guantanamo and that U.S. officials have refused access to Canadian officials. The paper quoted unidentified sources as saying the youth allegedly killed an American soldier with a grenade.
Countries that have been allowed to send delegations to visit citizens in Guantanamo include Pakistan, Bahrain, Saudi Arabia, Britain, Russia, France, Kuwait, Yemen, Sweden and Denmark.