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Last Updated: Friday, 22 August, 2003, 06:15 GMT 07:15 UK
Guantanamo may free children
Guards and a detainee at Guantanamo Bay in 2002
Children have been kept separate from adults at the prison camp
The commander of the Guantanamo Bay detention camp has told the BBC the US military is hoping to release children it is holding there.

The BBC's Gordon Corera, in Guantanamo Bay, says the US's interviews with the three children - aged between 13 and 15 - reveal they may have been coerced into fighting in Afghanistan.

General Geoffrey Miller who leads operations at the camp is seeking to have the children released in recognition of their age and co-operation, our correspondent says.

"These juvenile enemy combatants were impressed, were kidnapped into terrorism. They have given us some very valuable intelligence. We are very close to making a recommendation on their transfer back to their home countries," General Miller said.

Special treatment

The children have been kept separate from the 700 adults being held at the camp, located on the southern Cuban coast.

They have been held with no access to a lawyer or understanding of what will happen to them, our correspondent adds.

But the children have been given access to games, even videos, as well as an extensive education programme.

This has led to the belief that they can be rehabilitated.

Wider issue

However, as plans continue for the start of military tribunals, there is little evidence that this view will extend to the other prisoners.

The US describes them as "enemy combatants" outside the normal legal framework and says it cannot treat them as normal criminals because of their alleged involvement in the 11 September attacks.

It also says it cannot treat them as ordinary prisoners of war. Normally such prisoners would be released at the end of hostilities - but the US says its war on terror is open-ended.

A recent statement reportedly from the top al-Qaeda leader, Ayman al-Zawahiri, vowed to avenge any judgements made on suspects detained at the camp.

The US Secretary for Homeland Security Tom Ridge said he took the threat seriously and that he operated every day on the basis there could be another terror strike.

The BBC's Nick Bryant
"Critics complain that justice at Guantanamo Bay is as rough as its mountainous terrain"

Gen. Geoffrey Miller, Guantanamo Bay commander
"We are very close to making a recommendation on their transfer back to their home countries"


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