KABUL (Reuters) - An Afghan who has spent over six years at the U.S. military’s Guantanamo Bay prison was only around 12 years old when he was detained, not 16 or 17 as his official record says, an Afghan rights group said on Tuesday.
Interviews with the family of Mohammed Jawad, who like many poor Afghans does not know his exact age or birthday, showed he was probably not even a teenager when he was arrested in 2002, the Afghan Independent Human Rights Commission said.
The U.S. military, however, disputed the commission’s assertion, saying its records stated that Jawad was 18 when he was transferred to the prison at a U.S. Naval base on Cuba.
“Based on a number of factors, to include a bone scan, the government has maintained that Jawad was 18 when he arrived at Guantanamo in 2003,” said Navy Commander J.D. Gordon, a Pentagon spokesman.
Jawad was picked up by Afghan police in connection with a grenade attack in Kabul in which two U.S. soldiers and their Afghan interpreter were wounded. He was transferred to U.S. custody the same day and flown to Guantanamo in early 2003.
Afghan human rights commissioner Nader Nadery said in addition to being a minor at the time of his detention, Jawad was tortured and abused by the Afghan police and while at the Guantanamo detention center.
The Commission is seeking his release and repatriation, and in the course of looking into his case found out he was probably considerably younger than his records showed.
“We asked his mother what was the big event close to his birth that you can remember, any change in the president etcetera, and she said that he was born around six months after his father’s death,” Nadery told Reuters.
“We tried to explore more when his father died, and his father died in a battle in Khost,” he said.
That fighting was in 1991, according to a petition submitted to the Afghan supreme court this month on Jawad’s behalf, aiming to force President Hamid Karzai to seek his release.
Nadry said the commission checked Jawad’s mother’s story, interviewing other relatives and officials including a soldier who commanded Jawad’s father.
Major Eric Montalvo, a Pentagon-appointed U.S. Marine Corps lawyer representing Jawad, said his client — who may still be a teenager if his mother’s dates are correct — should be released.
“We have a child of Afghanistan that was wrongfully taken from this country and he needs to be returned. He was tortured, he was abused over seven years of custody,” he told a news conference in the Afghan capital.
Nadry said the commission had raised Jawad’s case with the Afghan and U.S. governments in the past, without success.
Gordon, the Pentagon spokesman, said the military believed Jawad was aged 17 when the Kabul attack took place but was 18 by the time he arrived at Guantanamo.
Since joining with Afghan troops to oust the Taliban in 2001, the U.S. has arrested thousands of suspected Taliban and al Qaeda militants in Afghanistan. Some were then transferred to other places, including the Guantanamo Bay prison.
Writing and additional reporting by Emma Graham-Harrison in Kabul and Andrew Gray in Washington; Editing by Sophie Hares and Sandra Maler