Midnight Politico

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Alheli Picazo is a retired elite athlete who's still passionate about health, fitness and human kinetics. After the conclusion of her athletic career, Picazo became keenly interested in politics and is now actively involved in promoting and contributing to the progressive cause. Picazo's goal is to engage in a meaningful political debate and combat apathy by shedding light on the information and stories that traditional media sources don't always provide.

Child soldiers: The other Taliban and Al-Qaeda militants

| November 25, 2010
Child soldiers: The other Taliban and Al-Qaeda militants

"A poignant reality of contemporary conflicts is that increasingly children are being used as cheap and readily available weapons of war. From Colombia to Sri Lanka, from Sierra Leone to Uganda, thousands of children have been used in armed conflict situations. In Afghanistan, our forces are seeing the increasing use of children in combat operations, including as suicide bombers." ~  Senator Roméo A. Dallaire - Retired Lieutenant General and former commander of the United Nations Assistance Mission for Rwanda (UNAMIR) & Ishmael Beah - Former child soldier, author of A Long Way Gone: Memoirs of a Boy Soldier and a UNICEF representative from Sierra Leone. For the Toronto Star, August 18, 2010.

In the city of Peshawar, situated along Northwest Pakistan's tribal area, lies Kachegori - one of the makeshift camps erected to house nearly one million citizens displaced by warring between the Taliban and the Pakistani Army.

More than 15,000 children call Kachegori Camp home, including Wasifullah and Abdurrahman who, in an interview with Frontline correspondent Sharmeen Obaid-Chinoy, call themselves best friends.

However, despite their shared interests and deep camaraderie, the boys hold opposing views on who's to blame for the bombings and missile attacks that destroyed their village.

Wasifullah describes finding his 12 year old cousin among the 80 civilians who were killed by an American missile attack.

"His body was being eaten by dogs," Wasifullah says, his face void of any emotion. "We brought his remains home in bags, [but] we could only find his legs, so we buried [his legs] in our village."

Obaid-Chinoy notes that although American missile strikes "target the Taliban and Al-Qaeda leaders," they inevitably kill civilians, adding that militants "are quick to make use of the destruction [which] becomes recruitment rally for the Taliban."

When asked what he aspires to become in the future, Wasifullah replies "God willing, I will join the Taliban."

In what some ways represents the burgeoning civil war within Pakistan, Wasifullah's best friend Abdurrahman believes it's the Taliban who are responsible for the destruction.

When asked what he believes the future hold for him, Abdurrahman replies he'd like "to be a Captain ... in the Pakistani Army and kill all the terrorists in Pakistan."

When confronted with the notion of the two boys meeting in battle, Obaid-Chinoy inquires whether each youngster would be willing to take the life of his best friend.

"Yes," replies Abdurrahman, the future captain of the Pakistani Army. "If [Wasifullah] is attacking the army, I will retaliate fiercely."

"Definitely," counters Wasifullah, the prospective Taliban militant. "If [Abdurrahman] does wrong, I will fight him."

Displaced, discontented and disconcerted, Wasifullah and Abdurrahman are eager to take up arms and fight against those whom they perceive to be the cause of the growing strife within Pakistan.

Which side of the fight each boy finds himself on, however, largely depends on which side of the battle is first to recruit him.

Looking South to Karachi, the largest city in Pakistan, where the slums have become "a recruiting ground for the next generation of Taliban fighters," it's easy to see what becomes of boys like Wasifullah and Abdurrahman.

With nowhere else to go, impoverished children are invited to study at talibanized madrassas. They receive free food and shelter in exchange for their unwavering commitment to learning a bastardized interpretation of the Koran - spending hours rocking back and forth ‘reading' from a book "written in Arabic, a language they don't understand."

It is here they are indoctrinated with the teachings of the Taliban, and of Sharia Law.

"Women are meant for domestic care, and that's what they should do," explains Shaheed, a 14-year-old madrassa student whose name literally translates as ‘martyr'.

"Sharia Law says it, so why are women wandering around? The government should forbid women and girls from wandering around outside. Just like the government banned plastic bags -- no one uses them anymore - we should do the same with women."

When asked by Obaid-Chinoy what he'll do after he graduates, Shaheed says he'll join the Taliban and fully intends to "support them in their war."

Taking it one step further, Shaheed says he'd ‘love to' become a suicide bomber, "[because] when I look at suicide bombers younger than me, or my age, I get so inspired by their terrific attacks."

This sentiment is echoed by Shaheed's teacher, who jovially tells the Frontline reporter that war is "in our blood."

"No matter how many Muslims die, we will never run out of sacrificial lambs [children] ... [who] consider this an opportunity to achieve martyrdom. Someone who sees death as a blessing -- who can defeat him?"

Qari Abdullah is the Taliban leader personally responsible for recruiting children to carry out suicide bombing operations. Abdullah was himself educated in a radicalized madrassa, and as a child was recruited to fight in Afghanistan.

Explaining in detail how he grooms children - some as young as 5 years of age - for a future with the Taliban, Abdullah tells Obaid-Chinoy:

"The kids want to join us because they like our weapons. They don't use weapons to begin with, they just carry them for us -- and off we go. They follow us because they're just small kids."

When asked if he thinks it's wrong to use children for suicide attacks, Abdullah doesn't flinch.

"If you are fighting, then God provides you with the means. Children are tools to achieve Gods will, and whatever comes your way, you sacrifice it. So it's fine"

Youngsters who've been ‘sacrificed' often appear in Taliban recruitment videos; Their loyalties are showcased, their final deeds glorified, their pledge to martyrdom chanted in a disturbing lullaby:

"If you try to find me / after I have died / you will never find my whole body. / You will find me in tiny little pieces."

Three boys featured in a Taliban propaganda video are Zenola, Sadic, and Mehsud; all three recruits became child suicide bombers who killed six, twenty-two, and twenty-eight respectively.

Wasifullah, Abdurrahman, Shaheed, Zenola, Sadic, and Mehsud -- these are The Children of the Taliban: Youngsters who are impoverished from birth, displaced by war, plucked from obscurity, indoctrinated by militants, and ultimately, recruited for terrorism.

They are brought up to believe they'll be carrying out Gods will; that martyrdom will deliver them eternal salvation.

The indoctrination and recruitment of the Children of the Taliban, in many ways, mirrors the indoctrination and recruitment of Omar Khadr - the Child of Al-Qaeda.

Khadr, a Canadian citizen who, at 15 years of age, was seized by U.S. forces in Afghanistan following an intense firefight, was by every definition a child soldier.

Indoctrinated by his father Ahmed Said Khadr, a senior member of Al-Qaeda, and raised along side the Bin Laden family, Khadr was quite literally Al-Qaeda's child; a "sacrificial lamb;" a "tool to achieve God's will."

Following his capture, however, Khadr became a tool to achieve the Bush Administration's will; a sacrificial lamb for the Bush/Cheney ‘War on Terror.'

In a 2010 episode of Doc Zone entitled The U.S. vs Omar Khadr, CBC documents the questionable case against, and unjust prosecution of, Khadr; a situation Senator Roméo Dallaire (Lieutenant General, Ret'd) warned of three years earlier:

"Canadians must realize by now that the [Harper] government's cynicism toward Omar Khadr's tragic predicament reflects an unacceptable moral position. We are permitting the United States to try a Canadian child soldier using a military tribunal whose procedures violate basic principles of justice [...]

In recent years, we have heard troubling facts about Guantanamo Bay and incontrovertible evidence of U.S. malfeasance.

In July, 2006, the United Nations called for the closure of Guantanamo Bay, terming the indefinite detention of individuals without a charge "a violation of the convention against torture." Two months later, more than 600 U.S. legal scholars and jurists called on Congress not to enact the Military Commissions Act of 2006, as it would rob detainees of fundamental protections provided by domestic and international law.

This act allows prosecutors to use evidence gleaned from abusive interrogations, including coercion and torture. The commissions also sabotage individuals' ability to defend themselves by barring access to exculpatory evidence known to the U.S. government. In Mr. Khadr's case, documents to be used as evidence for war-crimes charges, laid in February, 2007, have been altered."

Furthermore, Dallaire detailed the global ramifications of prosecuting Khadr, a child soldier, as an adult:

"Within the international community, Canada is viewed as gullible for allowing one its citizens to be processed by an illegal tribunal system at Guantanamo, and as hypocritical for quietly acceding to the first ever child-soldier war-crimes prosecution.

Canada's inaction has profound ramifications. The UN Special Representative for Children in Armed Conflict, Radhika Coomaraswamy, says Khadr's prosecution sets a hazardous precedent in international law, which will endanger child soldiers in conflict zones. The impunity enjoyed by the real criminals -- those who have recruited child soldiers -- continues to the detriment of real victims: the thousands of child soldiers around the world."

Militants throughout Afghanistan and Pakistan are recruiting child soldiers at record pace, using them to monitor the movement of NATO forces to ensure the insurgents' attacks have maximum impact; Relegating to them the risky assignment of assembling and planting IED's and land-mines; Arming them with high-tech weaponry and sending them into battle.

As the NATO mission in Afghanistan extends to 2014 and beyond, it's only a matter of time before soldiers are faced with another ‘Omar Khadr;' a child in the heart of the battle fighting alongside the either the Taliban or Al-Qaeda.

When that time comes, what will NATO's response be? Will soldiers turn a blind eye to the thousands of youngsters planting IED's and land-mines? Will child soldiers who engage in armed combat simply be slaughtered alongside those who recruited them? If apprehended, will adolescents follow the precedent set by the Khadr prosecution, and be arrested, tried, and convicted of war crimes?

It's time for NATO to live up to it's international obligations and adhere to the UN Optional Protocol to the Convention on the Rights of the Child, and "[recognize] the special needs of those children who are particularly vulnerable to recruitment or use in hostilities ... [and] of the need [for] the physical and psychosocial rehabilitation and social reintegration of children who are victims of armed conflict."

NATO cannot expect to achieve any lasting progress against either the Taliban or Al-Qaeda unless they're fully prepared to focus, not on the prosecution, but the treatment and rehabilitation of the youngest generation of militant recruits.

Because ultimately, it's with this generation of children in the Middle East on which the future stability of the entire region rests.

--

I highly encourage you to watch the entire Frontline documentary - Children of the Taliban 

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Comments

Your idea of "documented fact" apparently consists of video interviews with a CIA recruit (Omar's brother), a page of bullet points on the CBC website, an article in the notoriously right-wing Maclean's magazine, and a program on the right-wing CBS television network.

The CBS program is full of inaccuracies and half-truths. They say Omar was the only person alive after the compound was destroyed by US forces in July 2002, and nobody else could have thrown the grenade, which is false. They say the grenade killed a "medic" when in fact the soldier in question (Sgt. Speer) was not acting as a medic at the time, but as a fighting soldier and a legitimate military target. Then they make much of Khadr's begging to be killed when he was found in the rubble, as if it was a matter of his wanting to be a martyr for Islam. What they don't mention is that Khadr had two gaping holes in his back and chest after being shot at close range by a cowardly US soldier as he lay helpless on the ground. His begging to be killed could be seen as a plea for a merciful death. They quote Ahmed Khadr as denying he was a terrorist; then the best they can do to contradict him is to say he "fervently believed that Afghanistan should be a Muslim state, and that the United States was the enemy of Islam," and that "he didn't seem to feel sorry about 9/11." Given all these falsehoods the program has no credibility at all.

When asked directly whether Omar was a member of Al-Qaeda or just had ties with al Qaeda through his family, the retired general who advised charging Omar with murder, choosing his words carefully, could only say, "There is evidence that he was fighting with people from al Qaeda, which would arguably make him a part of al Qaeda." He never says what that evidence is. Not exactly what I would call documented proof, but apparently it's good enough for you..

They quote Omar's brother Abdurahman, who worked for the CIA after 9/11, as saying that kids in Afghanistan going to mujahedeen training camps was as common as Canadian kids going to hockey camp. [His other brother Abdullah says, "Anyone who wants to get trained can get trained in Afghanistan. If you want to fire a Kalashnikov it is like in Canada going and learning hockey. Anybody can do it. A ten-year-old boy can fire a Kalashnikov in Afghanistan. So it's not a big deal."] He said his family were not hard core members of al-Qaeda or the Taliban. "My dad had some business dealings with Osama," said Abdurahman, but not the rest of the family. Not exactly proof that his father was a terrorist. If he was a terrorist, he was "our" terrorist - having fought the Russians with the support of the CIA.

In his interview with Terrence McKenna, Abdurahman is asked "How would you characterize the relationship between your father and Osama?" His reply:

Quote:
Between my father and Osama, I could say they're friends. They're old friends. My father is one of those really old people. It's like buddies, you know, you're having buddies from your school and stuff. So they're old friends. My father really respects Osama and Osama really respects my father.

In fact, Ahmed was never convicted of any terrorist act. The CBC website says he was "accused of being a 'founding member' of al-Qaeda and financier for the organization." Accusation is not proof. Ahmed always denied he was a member of al Qaeda, and nobody has any proof to the contrary. He was arrested by Pakistani police in connection with the 1995 bombing of the Egyptian embassy in Islamabad, but released three months later, without a trial. That would never have happened if there had been actual evidence against him.

The slimy Maclean's article that casually calls Ahmed Khadr a terrorist points out that the RCMP at one point searched the belongings of Omar's sister Zaynab, "seizing thousands of computer files, CDs and audio cassettes." Zaynab was never charged with any offence as a result. In fact, the entire family has been under investigation for the better part of a decade and no charges have been laid. Apparently the author of this scurrilous piece of garbage believes Zaynab's worst crime is that she says Canada is a "prime target for terrorism." Frankly, I agree with her. After what we have done in Afghanistan, there must be tens of thousands of Afghans who had never heard of Canada ten years ago, but today would gladly martyr themselves if given a chance to strike back at us.

The PBS interview with Abdullah Khadr establishes that he denies being a terrorist or a member of al Quaeda. His recollection of his father Ahmed was that he spent all his time doing charity work with the orphanages he had established, to the extent that he neglected his own family.

None of this is proof, "documented" or otherwise, of anyone in Omar Khadr's family being al Qaeda. These people are all sympathetic to the Islamic radical movement that opposes western imperialism. That doesn't make them terrorists.

And all of this is merely a footnote to the main points of my previous post. Calling the Khadr family terrorists and painting Omar as primarily a victim of his parents is the kind of thing the scum-sucking neocon press does (see the Maclean's article you linked to). They're happy to do that because it suits their agenda of proving that radical Muslims are monsters and thus the enemies of all right-thinking people. Those who claim to be progressive should be able to follow a different agenda. People fighting against imperialist aggression deserve our solidarity, not our demonization.

You seem to be confused.

The Khadr family's links to Al Qaeda is not "unproven slander." It is documented fact.

I suggest you do some further research:

Listen to Omar Khadr's brother tell his family's story HERE

Read about the family HERE and HERE, and watch HERE

 

Furthermore, I suggest you WATCH the Frontline documentary before calling it "pro-war propaganda." It is anything, but.


This is more of the same bullshit propaganda that blames insurgents in Afghanistan and Pakistan as "the real criminals" and absolves the western invaders of responsibility for the recruitment of child soldiers by the populations they make war on.

These children are always depicted as victims of bad parents rather than as the victims of our aggressive warmaking. We are told the problem is not our making war against them, but rather their evil terrorist parents, who send them to religious schools and indoctrinate them into believing that fighting against western imperialist troops is a glorious mission. But in fact these children are no different from their counterparts in Canada and the United States who are raised from an early age with a visceral hatred and fear of the Islamic world, and who believe it is their Christian duty, once they reach 18, to enlist in the imperial armed forces so they can go abroad and kill Muslims, with the blessing of their proud parents who plaster yellow ribbons on their SUVs. 

The only difference is that the populations on the receiving end of imperialist terrorism don't have the luxury of letting their kids grow up before they take an active part in the fighting. They don't get to choose whether to put their children in harm's way; that's a circumstance that we, the imperialist military powers, thrust upon them. The war is brought to their doorstep, and everyone's life is on the line, young and old, men and women, boys and girls. To depict these people as some kind of monsters who don't love their own children enough is hypocritical and false.

So much of the discourse on child soldiers is coloured by an implicit racism and condescension towards people who live in war zones, as we presume to lecture them, from a safe and comfortable distance, on how to play by the rules of war. In the case of Afghanistan, it's just another way of demonizing the so-called Taliban, and thereby abetting pro-war propaganda. That's what the Frontline program was all about.

We get very selective about who gets criticized; for example, where is the revulsion and condemnation against the Jews of the Warsaw Ghetto whose childrens' participation in the armed conflict with the Nazis is regarded as nothing short of heroic? Not to mention the American Civil War, in which "between 250,000 and 420,000 boy soldiers, including many in their early teens to even younger, served in the Union and Confederate armies. On the whole, between 10 and 20 percent of recruits were under 18." Source

Meanwhile the NATO countries are urged to focus on "rehabilitation" of the child soldiers they capture.  Rehabilitation is never defined by the United Nations or the liberal human-rights industry. To most North Americans, it probably means knocking the Islamic radicalism out of them and keeping them away from their evil parents.

Again, the assumption is that NATO are the "good guys" who know how to undo the indoctrination committed by the child's evil parents. The urgency of this rehabilitation is always underscored by hysterical and made-up accounts of what monsters these parents are. For example, it seems that nobody can defend Omar Khadr these days without repeating unproven slanders against his family, based on speculative and unexamined assertions about their closeness to Osama bin Laden. Omar is portayed as a victim of his parents, a "child of terrorism", rather than the victim of imperialist aggression. His human-rights advocates are quite happy to see Khadr "rehabilitated" from being a militant fighter against imperialism into being a fine, upstanding member of bourgeois society.

If only we could make all the terrorists learn to behave like us nice civilized people - or, as Stanley Kubrick put it, "stop worrying and love the Bomb."

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