White House Says Child Soldiers Are Ok, If They Fight Terrorists
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In August 2007 the USA opened Dar al-Hikmah, a non-residential facility intended to provide education services to 600 detainees aged 11-17 pending release or transfer to Iraqi custody. US military officials excluded an estimated 100 children from participation in the program, apparently on the grounds that they were “extremists” and “beyond redemption”.
Omar Khadr, the young Canadian detainee at Guantanamo Bay, remains trapped in a Kafkaesque quasi-judicial system without regard to the fact that he was a child when captured. Rights advocates like Monia Mazigh in Ottowa have called for Khadr to be recognized as a child soldier, but the administration seems to think securing a conviction in Kangaroo Court takes precedence over international law. And because Khadr, like the other Gitmo prisoners, is identified with that faceless dark horde the U.S. has branded “terrorists,” Americans aren’t even inclined to see him as a human being, let alone as a juvenile soldier deserving of sympathy.
So America’s hypocrisy on children in war has many layers. Obama condemns the practice in theory, then undermines federal law by issuing waivers for our partners in Africa and the Middle East. And of course, Washington sees no problem with punishing child soldiers as adults when they’re aligned with the terrorists who are bent on destroying America.
UN Treaties alone obviously won’t demobilize all the world’s child soldiers, but their main role is to put down a legal placeholder. And it’s that moral guidepost that the U.S. undermines every time it waives parallel U.S. laws based on the “ national interest.”
Obama’s memorandum may look jarring on paper, but it’s grimly consistent with Washington’s agenda of waging war indefinitely, without boundaries, against an enemy we can no longer really define. The U.S. supports warfare that uses children as weapons, warfare that kills civilian children indiscriminately, warfare that ultimately sends our own children to perish on foreign soil. And so America marches on in a world of conflict where the first casualty is innocence itself.
Michelle Chen has written for the South China Morning Post, Clamor, INTHEFRAY.COM and her own zine, cain.