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The disclosure that the United States was holding three Afghan boys under 16 as "juvenile enemy combatants" at Guantánamo Bay caused widespread shock.
Officers there were almost equally surprised, they said yesterday. They discovered they had been sent a child only when doctors examining a recent arrival noticed his physical immaturity.
The youth, whose exact age is uncertain, was separated from adult detainees immediately. When two more youths arrived shortly afterwards a separate juvenile camp was built in a remote house overlooking the sea.
Anxious to defuse a potential public relations disaster, officials at Guantánamo Bay allowed access to Camp Iguana, as the new area is called.
Senior commanders were at pains to describe the special care being taken of the unusual detainees, while stressing their status as dangerous terrorists.
Col Adolph McQueen, head of the Joint Detention Operation Group, said: "We have a programme designed by medical staff, they are being taught mathematics and reading, and we have an interpreter there all the time."
The youngest of the three appears to be about 13. But Col McQueen said: "They are juvenile enemy combatants that have a history of violence. If you let your guard down you could get someone hurt."
Maj Gen Geoffrey Miller, the overall commander, would not be drawn on the nature of the crimes committed by the boys, saying only that they "have both information of value to the United States and are threats to this nation" after being pressed into terrorist service by "despicable people".
Copyright © 2003 Telegraph Group Limited
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