Torture has received the most attention among the many war crimes of the Bush administration. But those who support Bush’s pursuit of the “war on terror” have not been impressed by recriminations over torture. Worse than torture are the murders of at least 50 prisoners in Abu Ghraib, Afghanistan, and Guantánamo, but again the hard-hearted are unimpressed when those whom they perceive as terrorists receive illegal extrajudicial capital punishment.
The case for abusing children, however, is more difficult to support. The best kept secret of the Bush’s war crimes is that thousands of children have been imprisoned, tortured, and otherwise denied rights under the Geneva Conventions and related international agreements. Yet both Congress and the media have strangely failed to identify the very existence of child prisoners as a war crime. In the Islamic world, however, there is no such silence. Indeed, the prophet Mohammed was the first to counsel warriors not to harm innocent children.
The first example of war crimes against children, which are well documented, occurred during the invasion of Afghanistan in 2001, when the children’s hospital in Kabul was bombed, its patients thereby murdered, contrary to the Red Cross Convention of 1864. Other children were killed as “collateral damage” during the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, contrary to the Geneva Convention ban on indiscriminate killing in wartime, though numbers of dead are unknown. During spring 2004, during the assault on Falluja, Iraq, some 300 children, including peaceful demonstrators, were killed. Their dead bodies were filmed live on al-Jazeera Television throughout the Arabic-speaking world.
In 2008, the Bush administration reported to the UN-assisted Committee on the Rights of the Child that the United States from 2002 had detained 2,400 children in Iraq and 100 in Afghanistan, though another source claims that the figure for Afghanistan is at least 800 boys, aged 10 to 15, from whom as many as 64 were sent to Guantánamo, of which there were 21 as of May 2008. That month, the Committee upbraided the United States for charging minors with war crimes instead of treating underage persons as victims of war. Khalid Sheikh Mohammed’s two children, aged 7 and 9, were separately detained to intimidate him to confess. While detained, several children have been brutalized and tortured. At Abu Ghraib, American guards video-taped Iraqi male prisoners raping young boys but took no action to stop the offenses. Perhaps the worst incident at Abu Ghraib involved a girl aged 12 or 13 who screamed for help to her brother in an upper cell while stripped naked and beaten. Iraqi journalist Suhaib Badr-Addin al-Baz, who heard the girl’s screams, also witnessed an ill 15-year-old who was forced to run up and down Abu Ghraib with two heavy cans of water and beaten whenever he stopped. When he fin-ally collapsed, guards stripped and poured cold water on him. Finally, a hooded man was brought in. When unhooded, the boy realized that the man was his father, who doubtless was being intimidated into confessing something upon sight of his brutalized son.