Terrorist or Child Soldier?

Over the protest of human rights groups, the U.S. government has brought murder charges against a Canadian citizen, who was 15-years-old when he was accused of throwing a hand grenade at U.S. soldiers in Afghanistan.

The Department of Defense said Omar Ahmed Khadr, who has been held as an adult by the U.S. at Guantanamo for five years, will be referred to a Military Tribunal there within 30 days. 

Born in Toronto, Khadr's family moved to Peshawar, Pakistan, when he was four. He was arrested in Afghanistan in 2002 after the hand grenade he allegedly threw killed one U.S. soldier and injured three others.

Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch and other human rights groups say Khadr should be treated as a child soldier, not an adult enemy combatant.

"We have grave concerns for him," says Beth Britton Hunter of Amnesty International. "He's been in prison for five years without a fair trial."

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Khadr's attorney, Kristine Husky, says Khadr has been abused and mistreated at Guantanamo.

"He's been treated much like the other detainees have been treated," she says. "He's been in and out of solitary confinement since he's been there. He's had no education since he's been there."

Khadr was raised in Afghanistan in an active Taliban family, and his father was killed in a 2003 gun battle.

Jo Becker, the Children's Rights advocate for Human Rights Watch, says it's alarming that Khadr's status as a child when charged has never been taken into consideration.

"The fact that he was recruited at a young age and that he was 15 when he allegedly committed these crimes, in our view, that's very relevant," says Becker.

In 2002, the U.S. ratified the Optional Protocol to the Convention on the Rights of the Child, which "prohibits the recruitment or use in hostilities of children under the age of 18 by rebel or other non-governmental armed groups and requires states to criminalize such practices." As part of the treaty, governments have the obligation to extend rehabilitation services to children who have been caught up in armed conflict.

Becker says the U.S. government's handling of Khadr's case is in direct conflict of the spirit of the treaty.

"It says that the U.S. has been very inconsistent in how it deals with this issue," says Becker. "For example, the U.S. has provided millions of dollars for rehabilitation programs for children in Africa and other countries," she says. "But if there's a situation where a child soldier may be engaging with U.S. troops, then all of the sudden the U.S. approach is different, and it starts taking a punitive rather than a rehabilitative approach."

A spokesman for the Department of Defense told ABCNews.com that age is not a factor when determining detention.

"We detain enemy combatants who engaged in armed conflict against our forces or provided support to those fighting against us. The fact that juveniles have been used as enemy combatants is an unfortunate reality in many parts of the world," the spokesman said.

Khadr's lawyers plan to appeal the charge and have filed a petition with the U.S. Supreme Court to stop the tribunal.

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