Today, six human rights groups released a report (pdf) on 39 people who they think the US government might be holding in undisclosed locations, and whose location is presently unknown. (Thus, they are not counting anyone known to be at Guantanamo or Bagram; just people who are missing.) That we have disappeared anyone is shocking, and a violation of treaties we have signed and ratified.
This report has gotten a fair amount of play, but in all the coverage I've read, only the Philadelphia Inquirer has mentioned what is, to me, the most awful allegation: that we disappeared young children. The report (pp. 24-26) lists five groups of family members; those who are discussed at greatest length are the sons of Khalid Sheikh Mohammed.
"In September 2002, Yusuf al-Khalid (then nine years old) and Abed al-Khalid (then seven years old) were reportedly apprehended by Pakistani security forces during an attempted capture of their father, Khalid Sheikh Mohammed. Khalid Sheikh Mohammed was successfully apprehended several months later, and the U.S. government has acknowledged that he was in the U.S. Secret Detention Program. He is presently held at Guantánamo Bay.
In an April 16, 2007 statement, Ali Khan (father of Majid Khan, a detainee who the U.S. government has acknowledged was in the U.S. Secret Detention Program and is presently held at Guantánamo Bay) indicated that Yusef and Abed al-Khalid had been held in the same location in which Majid Khan and Majid’s brother Mohammed were detained in March/April 2003. Mohammed was detained by Pakistani officials for approximately one month after his apprehension on March 5, 2003 (see below). Ali Khan’s statement indicates that:Also according to Mohammed, he and Majid were detained in the same place where two of Khalid Sheik Mohammed’s young children, ages about 6 and 8, were held. The Pakistani guards told my son that the boys were kept in a separate area upstairs, and were denied food and water by other guards. They were also mentally tortured by having ants or other creatures put on their legs to scare them and get them to say where their father was hiding.
After Khalid Sheikh Mohammed’s arrest in March 2003, Yusuf and Abed Al Khalid were reportedly transferred out of Pakistan in U.S. custody. The children were allegedly being sent for questioning about their father’s activities and to be used by the United States as leverage to force their father to co-operate with the United States. A press report on March 10, 2003 confirmed that CIA interrogators had detained the children and that one official explained that:“We are handling them with kid gloves. After all, they are only little children...but we need to know as much about their father's recent activities as possible. We have child psychologists on hand at all times and they are given the best of care.”
In the transcript of Khalid Sheikh Mohammed’s Combatant Status Review Tribunal, he indicates knowledge that his children were apprehended and abused:
“They arrested my kids intentionally. They are kids. They been arrested for four months they had been abused.”"
Here are links to the sources mentioned above: Ali Khan's statement (pdf); the 'press report' (from the Telegraph); Khalid Sheikh Mohammed’s CSRT hearing (pdf; the relevant part is near the end.) For the record, what KSM says about his children is in no way the point of his remarks; he has admitted to being an enemy combatant, and seems to be addressing the the members of his tribunal, sort of as (in his eyes) one military guy to another, about how while everyone knows that bad things happen in war, they should realize that there are some people in detention who were not al Qaeda or Taliban at all, just in the wrong place at the wrong time. This comes during the 'we all know that bad things happen in war' part. As another example, he mentions that the US bombed the house of Ayman al Zawahiri, killing his wife and children; this is reported to have happened.
Over the weekend I was visiting my family, and I spent a fair amount of time with two of my nephews, aged nine and almost seven. I took one of them to the Science Museum, where we watched chicks hatch, and saw interesting arc-ing phenomena at the Theater of Electricity, and I explained why the race car had thick tires and an airfoil, and we generally had a blast. I went to see the younger one play T-ball, which I had never seen before; he was immensely pleased with his uniform. I was appropriately horrified when they told me, with barely concealed glee, that they supported the Yankees. In Boston. We had a blast.
The evidence that our government held Khalid Sheikh Mohammed's sons is not conclusive, and I do not mean to suggest that it is. Still, if you had told me, six years ago, that I would find myself seriously entertaining the possibility that my own government had detained children more or less the same age, I would have thought you were insane. Disappearing people of any age, without charges or trial or anything, is what two-bit dictators do; not what we do. But disappearing children, not seventeen year olds about whom one might have interesting debates about when exactly childhood ends but seven- and nine-year olds -- that's so far across the line that it would have been unimaginable to me. And the fact, if it is one, that they are supposedly "handled with kid gloves" and "given the best of care" does not begin to make up for this. Detention is not "the best of care" for anyone. It is certainly not "the best of care" for a young child.
Later in the same article, someone identified as 'a CIA official' says of Khalid Sheikh Mohammed: "His sons are important to him. The promise of their release and their return to Pakistan may be the psychological lever we need to break him." I'm sorry: children are not "psychological levers". They are children. And if we don't know the difference, then we should just hang it up right now, since we have plainly lost anything remotely resembling a sense of decency.
They should be playing T-ball, or wandering around the Theater of Electricity with eyes as big as saucers. They should not be in jail.
And note this: the only people who were included in the report are people whose whereabouts are presently unknown. These kids were captured over four years ago. They would be thirteen and eleven now. Does anyone know where they are? Does anyone care?