SAN JUAN, Puerto Rico – Terror suspects under age 16 are being held at the U.S. detention camp in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, a military official said Tuesday.
The teenagers are kept in cells separate from the adult detainees but also are considered enemy combatants, Lt. Col. Barry Johnson, chief spokesman for the mission, told The Associated Press.
He would not say how many teenagers are being held, only that they are "very few, a very small number," nor would he say how old the youngest prisoner is.
All the teenagers were "captured as active combatants against U.S. forces" and were brought to Guantanamo after Jan. 1, he said. Johnson confirmed their presence following a report by Australia's ABC television that youths were being held at the camp.
Officials determined the detainees were younger than 16 during medical and other screenings after their arrival, Johnson said.
Roughly 660 detainees from 42 countries are being held at Guantanamo on suspicion of links to Al Qaeda terrorist network or Afghanistan's ousted Taliban regime. They have not been charged and are not allowed access to lawyers.
Human Rights Watch said the youths' situation exacerbates concerns about the indefinite detention of the detainees.
The fact that children are being held "reflects our broader concerns that the U.S. never properly determined the legal status of those held in the conflict," said James Ross, legal adviser for Human Rights Watch in New York.
Holding "captured children ... obviously makes the problem worse."
Johnson indicated the teenagers are being interrogated, saying "they have potential to provide important information."
Lawyers have blamed the indefinite detentions for depression suffered by some detainees, and an increase in suicide attempts at the camp, which received the first terror suspects in January 2001.
Johnson reported a repeat attempt at suicide Monday night by a detainee who was under close supervision in the acute care unit of a new mental health ward.
That brings the number of suicide attempts to 25 by 17 individuals, with 15 attempts made this year, according to the military.