Not every Guantanamo detainee is a terrorist

Sun, 10 Jan 2016 Source: Adib Saani

My 70 year old mother called me in a state of panic from Tamale. Terrified, I enquired what the matter was. “I understand terrorists have invaded Ghana,” she exclaimed.

I instantly burst into laughter. As happening, I allayed her fears and tried desperately to make her understand we are safe.

Many Ghanaians have expressed similar sentiments and fears since the Ministry of Foreign Affairs issued the Press Release on hosting ex-Gitmo detainees and some refugees. As typical of us, it was followed by a media frenzy and I especially enjoyed those narrations on the Twi speaking radio stations.

There was even rumours of Government allegedly bribing security experts with money to side with the idea. I was personally on a number of networks and social media platforms trying hard to make people understand it is not exactly what most of them think it is.

The last time I checked, a convict is “one who has been convicted or found guilty of a crime by a judicial body.” Interestingly, the much talked about ex-convicts from Guantanamo (Gitmo) are not really convicts in the first place. They are as innocent as you and I, until proven guilty by a competent court of jurisdiction.

Gitmo prison was established in 2002 under then Defence Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, who said that the prison camp was established to detain extraordinarily dangerous people, to interrogate detainees in an optimal setting, and to prosecute detainees for war crimes.

Over 500 detainees have since been released, most of whom were illegally held and never charged with any crime. Mahmmoud Omar Mohammed Bin Atef and Khalid Shaykh Muhammad, the two Yemenis seeking refuge in Ghana have been in detention for 14 years without charge. Absolutely no evidence against them. Just rumours about their involvement in training al Qaeda operatives and fighting alongside Osama bin Laden. If indeed they did, I strongly doubt they will walk free without getting prosecuted.

According to a February 2009 Human Rights Watch Report, about 60 detainees (from countries such as Egypt, Algeria, Yemen, Tunisia, China, Libya, Uzbekistan and Kazakhstan, etc.), despite their release remain stranded at Gitmo for years on end because they risk being prosecuted, persecuted or even tortured when they return to their countries of origin.

In late 2001, after the US invasion of Afghanistan, leaflets were distributed by coalition forces in Afghanistan and Pakistan appealing to people to turn in ‘suspicious characters’ for substantial monetary rewards. This gave rise to what was commonly known as “the bounty hunters,” who turned in many innocent people for money. Many were detained based on mere suspicion or just been at the wrong place at the wrong time. 22 innocent Chinese Uighurs were among those detained by the bounty hunters and handed over to American forces since 2001.

They were all however cleared of any wrong-doing and were released in 2004. Only 5 of them have however been taken in by Albania with the remaining 17 stranded at Gitmo because they are likely to be tortured when they return to china.

In May 2007, Martin Scheinin, a United Nations rapporteur on rights in countering terrorism, released a preliminary report for the United Nations Human Rights Council. The report stated the United States violated international law, particularly the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, that the Bush Administration could not try such prisoners as enemy combatants in a military tribunal and could not deny them access to the evidence used against them. Prisoners have been labeled “illegal” or “unlawful enemy combatants,” but several observers such as the Center for Constitutional Rights and Human Rights Watch maintain that the United States has not held the Article 5 tribunals required by the Geneva Conventions

Some detainees faced enduring torture including waterboarding, beatings, sleep deprivation, prolonged constraint in uncomfortable positions, prolonged hooding, sexual and cultural humiliation, forced injections, and other physical and psychological mistreatment during their detention at Gitmo. The International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) inspected the camp in June 2004. In a confidential report issued in July 2004 and leaked to The New York Times in November 2004, Red Cross inspectors accused the U.S. military of using “humiliating acts, solitary confinement, temperature extremes, use of forced positions” against prisoners. The inspectors concluded that “the construction of such a system, whose stated purpose is the production of intelligence, cannot be considered other than an intentional system of cruel, unusual and degrading treatment and a form of torture.” The United States Government reportedly rejected the Red Cross findings at the time.

Ghana is neither the first nor the last country to extend this humanitarian gesture. About 55 countries including European countries such as Sweden, Germany, France, Belgium, Spain, United Kingdom, have taken in these detainees. According to the same report, all former Gitmo detainees in Europe are living peaceful lives, without engaging in militant or other violent acts.

I cannot deny the fact that there were hardcore terrorists at Gitmo, there were however more innocent people than guilty people there. The goal of resettlement is to protect detainees from further abuse and to ensure that they are successfully integrated into host’s society.

It is therefore only natural and humanitarian that as a country that believes in the respect for human dignity, we accept these people as requested by such a close ally like the United States. It is a simple case of humanitarian or perhaps a goodwill gesture. One good turn deserves another.

By: Adib Saani

Political and Foreign Policy Analyst

Columnist: Adib Saani