On April 8, the French news service AFP reported that U.S. marines had liberated a children’s prison in Northeast Baghdad. The report said that 100 to 150 children poured out of the unlocked prison gates and swarmed around their marine liberators. A marine officer told an AFP embedded reporter that the children looked undernourished and were wearing threadbare clothing.
Ironically, these children may have been the lucky ones. Over the past decade, international organizations like Human Rights Watch, have repeatedly reported on the imprisonment, torture, and execution of children by the Saddam Hussein regime. Children have been among the nearly 300,000 persons who have “disappeared” in Iraq since the later 1970s. Children have been routinely and repeatedly arrested to force their parents to confess to crimes against the regime.
For example, a March Boston Globe story detailed the interrogation of a former Iraqi secret police thug who had specialized in torture. The thug admitted torturing children as young as five or six to “get their mothers talking.” He claimed that Iraqi torturers never killed the children, just “beat them with steel cables.” But he was contradicted by a BBC story in which another former regime torturer said it was common to kill children if their parents wouldn’t talk.
The marine officer told the AFP that the children his unit liberated were in prison because they refused to join the youth branch of Saddam’s Baath party. This is a reference to an organization set up by the regime in 1998 known as “Saddam’s Cubs.” Young men were sent to training camps to receive some military training and indoctrination. They were then considered ready for service in the Fedeyeen Saddam, the paramilitary groups that have been harassing advancing U.S. military units. Saddam Hussein’s stated objective of the camps was to prepare youth to “confront imperialists or to charge in attacks.”
The existence of children’s prisons in Iraq was reported last September by Scott Ritter, former U.N. weapons inspector. Ritter said that his inspection team had first come across a children’s prison in Baghdad January 1998. The prison Ritter saw held toddlers to pre-adolescents and was for the children of parents who opposed the regime.
Ritter said it was a “horrific scene.” But he refused to elaborate any further. He says he was afraid that the story was “so horrible that it can be used by those who want to promote war with Iraq.” Ritter said he was “waging peace.” We suspect that the liberal media has been following Ritter’s lead. That would explain the apparent blackout in the media on this story. In an Internet search, we could find only one additional reference to it in a Washington Post editorial. The rest of the media have ignored it.