GUANTANAMO BAY, Cuba - Three Afghan juveniles, whose detention has become an international cause celebre for critics of U.S. legal tactics in the war on terrorism, will soon be released and sent home, according to Maj. Gen. Geoffrey D. Miller, commander of the task force that runs the Pentagon's sprawling complex of prisons by the sea.
"We are very close to making a recommendation of a transfer back to their home country," Miller said yesterday of the boys, ages 13 to 15, who were captured on the battlefield among Taliban fighters but weren't flown to Guantanamo until last spring. "The enemy juvenile combatants have provided very high value useful intelligence."
The boys are among the most recent arrivals of the approximately 660 detainees here. And as the youngest, they have had their own lower-security jail. Known as Camp Iguana, it is a small, one-story blockhouse on a grassy lawn surrounded by a high fence - but no razor wire - on a bluff overlooking a popular swimming beach.
The boys have received psychological counseling and regular visits from social workers - albeit while closely supervised by military police, a round-the-clock presence.
But it's what they haven't been given - lawyers and a speedy resolution to their legal status - that has drawn international ire. Both are specified as rights of detained juveniles by the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child.
Miller offered no apologies yesterday, saying that the boys were captured on the battlefield and fit the two major requirements for shipment to detention at Guantanamo.
"You must have intelligence of value, and you must be deemed a threat," he said. "When they came here, they came for all the right reasons."
Miller said the Taliban had kidnapped at least two of the boys and turned all three into mercenaries for their cause.
Staff Sgt. Douglas Patrick, the commander of Camp Iguana, says the boys have gone through "a pretty amazing and intensive transformation."
"We're in no way trying to Americanize them," Patrick said. "We're just trying to allow them to go back to the way they are supposed to be at their ages. They are here for a limited time."