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2/13/04 - GUANTANAMO DETAINEES TREATED WELL - 2004-02-13


Fifteen-year-old Muhammed Ismail Agha is now with his family in his hometown of Nawzad, Pakistan. He and two other teenage illegal combatants were recently released from the U.S. detention facility in Guantanamo, Cuba. "At first I was unhappy," said Agha. "I was confused, but later the Americans were so nice to me. They gave me a good time in Cuba." The time was well spent. Agha said, "I can read and write." He also learned English and was able to read the Koran.

Agha was one of many children recruited by the Taleban to fight against Northern Alliance forces and their allies in Afghanistan. United Nations Secretary General Kofi Annan reported in 1999 that children younger than fourteen were fighting with Taleban forces. "Children are innocent, so they are the best tools," said a captured adult Taleban fighter.

Muslim extremist madrassas in Pakistan are a rich recruiting ground for the Taleban and terrorist groups. Parents are often unaware that their children are being lured into violence. Thirteen-year-old Maroof Ahmad Awan was sent by his madrassa school principal to fight in Afghanistan. The boy's parents were not even consulted. Awan's outraged father filed a lawsuit against the principal in a Karachi, Pakistan, court. "I handed him over to the school to learn the Koran," the father said, "not to handle guns."

Terrorist groups, such as the Kashmir Lashkar-I-Taiba, recruit madrassa children to be used as human bombs. One of these recruits was Kashmir's first suicide bomber. He was only eighteen years old.

Determining the age of illegal combatants like the recently released Muhammed Ismail Agha has been a problem for coalition forces in Afghanistan. And because an armed youthful fanatic can kill just as an adult can, care has to be taken to ensure that detainees who are released are not a threat to innocent people. Regardless of their age or the danger they pose, all detainees at Guantanamo are treated humanely.

U.S. General Geoffrey Miller, the officer commanding the facility, says that among other services, special medical care is provided to detainees:

". . .because some came in with wounds, some came in with long-standing medical problems."

As Faiz Mohammed, an Afghan illegal combatant released from Guantanamo in October 2002, put it, "they treated us well."

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