Obama pursues Bush policies: US insists that they can detain an innocent 14 year-old forever without charges or a trial in Bagram Air Force Base, despite not even knowing how old he is

February 16, 2011

Hamidullah is a young Pakistani boy – only 14 years old at the time of his seizure – who was sent by his father from their home in Karachi to the ancestral family village in Waziristan in July 2008 to bring home some family belongings. 

He was meant to return two days later, but disappeared without trace, apparently abducted and turned over to the US for a bounty. He has been in US detention in Bagram since that time. He has never been charged or tried for any offence.

The US government says that they can hold Hamidullah without trial, essentially forever if it so chooses. The US government argues that Hamidullah’s “age … is irrelevant to the jurisdictional question before the Court” and that Reprieve is wrong to argue that the Court “should exercise habeas jurisdiction over alien juveniles held at Bagram because of policy considerations underlying domestic and international laws regarding the involvement of children in armed conflicts.”

Reprieve’s director Clive Stafford Smith said: 

“We cannot expect the world to respect our call for ‘change’ when all the worst US policies remain the same. It is the ultimate indictment of the Bagram process that US intelligence cannot even figure out how old Hamidullah is – how can we trust them to have the vaguest notion of whether he has done anything wrong? It is time to get back to basics, and recognize that we need to give this child some due process. 

“There is no evidence that Hamidullah was involved in violence in any way, but it is worth noting that if he had been, he should be protected by the UN Convention on child soldiers.”


Hamidullah is from a family that originally lived in Waziristan, but moved to Karachi before he was born. He was a student at Rehmat English School in Karachi. However, when it became too expensive for his father to afford his education, he dropped out of school and took a job with a local doctor.

In July 2008, because of the ongoing military operations in the area, Wakil Khan decided that he should retrieve his family’s belongings from their village in Waziristan. Since Wakil Khan could not travel to Waziristan at the time because of work commitments, he asked his son (who at the time was only 14 years of age) to make the trip for him. Wakil Khan arranged for a friend named Khairullah to accompany his son.

Hamidullah left Karachi at 7:30am on July 26, 2008. The family has not seen him since that day.

Khairullah lives near Wakil Khan in Karachi. Khairullah also had to travel to his village in Dera Ismail Khan, which is on the way to Waziristan. Hamidullah and Khairullah travelled together on the 26th of July by bus to go to their respective villages. They reached Dera Ismail Khan the next day at around 8am and Khairullah got off the bus, while Hamidullah continued on another 120 kilometres to his village. Hamidullah asked Khairullah to wait for him, saying he would come back to Dera Ismail Khan two days later, and they would return to Karachi together.

Khairullah waited for a few days for his friend, but Hamidullah never showed up. Because mobile phone service in South Waziristan was poor, Khairullah called Wakil Khan in Karachi. Wakil Khan said he had not heard from his son either, and so on the 7th or 8th of August, Khairullah gave up waiting and left for Karachi.

After considerable time and effort, Wakil Khan eventually learned that his son had reached their family village safely, and had stayed with his maternal grandparents. When he went missing, his grandparents initially thought that he had left to return for Karachi without telling them. Consequently Wakil Khan left Karachi to try to find his son. His search became increasingly desperate. Local authorities in Waziristan reported that they had no information on the whereabouts of his son.

It was not until January 2009 that the family first heard news of Hamiudullah through the ICRC. Some months later, the family received a picture of him taken in Bagram. He remains there to this day, and the United States asserts its right to hold him indefinitely without trial.

The US did not know how old he was, and used an inappropriate technique to try to guesstimate. Admiral Harward states in his declaration filed in this case that “[a] recent radiological examination of Petitioner found that he had a bone age of 19 years old. Although this radiological examination may not accurately reflect his actual chronological age, DoD medical personnel deemed the result to be consistent with Petitioner’s physical examination and reported age.” Respondent’s Mem. Supp. Ex. 2, at ¶ 15. The government furnishes no details of the “recent radiological examination.”

First, it should be noted that the assessment of “bone age” is not intended to determine the age of the person being tested. Rather, a comparison between the so-called “bone age” and the known chronological age of the patient is used to indicate abnormalities in the skeletal development. Thus, the government has put this test to a use that is scientifically untested for the simple reason that it is not generally of any use – under what circumstances (save trying to support the government’s efforts to avoid the consequences of a prisoner’s youth) would any doctor perform such a test to determine the age of the individual? For this reason, the method is scientifically unproven for the purpose proposed and would not normally be admitted into court.

Second, since Hamidullah has been held for two and a half years, and is now 17 years old, and the test is concededly only accurate (at best) to within two years, the test is consistent with his being his stated age (14) at the time of his detention.

Regardless, the US can only argue for his detention without a hearing and a trial by conceding that he was, indeed, only 14 when originally seized.

For more information please contact Katherine O’Shea at Reprieve’s Press Office katherine.oshea@reprieve.org.uk 020 7427 1099/ 07931592674.

Notes for Editors:Reprieve, a legal action charity, uses the law to enforce the human rights of prisoners, from death row to Guantánamo Bay. Reprieve investigates, litigates and educates, working on the frontline, to provide legal support to prisoners unable to pay for it themselves. Reprieve promotes the rule of law around the world, securing each person’s right to a fair trial and saving lives. Clive Stafford Smith is the founder of Reprieve and has spent 27 years working on behalf of people facing the death penalty in the USA.

Reprieve has represented, and continues to represent, a large number of prisoners who have been rendered and abused around the world, and is conducting ongoing investigations into the rendition and the secret detention of ‘ghost prisoners’ in the so-called ‘war on terror.’

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