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Nancy Talanian

Nancy Talanian

Posted: April 22, 2010 08:59 AM

Guantánamo Uighurs Are Not Alone: US Communities Welcome Other Detainees in Need of Safe Haven

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On April 22, attorneys for five Chinese Uighurs who remain at Guantánamo Bay prison will argue for their clients' entry into the US at a hearing scheduled before the US Court of Appeals in Washington, DC. The men have been offered housing in the US and have refused the government of Palau's invitation to settle in their country. The US cannot return the men to China, where they would face persecution.

But the Uighurs are not the only remaining detainees who have been offered homes in the US. On November 4, 2009, Amherst (MA) Town Meeting overwhelmingly approved a resolution to welcome two cleared Guantánamo detainees who cannot safely return to their home countries, and a nearby community--Leverett, MA--will consider a similar resolution April 24. A blanket ban Congress passed last fall bars anyone who has ever been detained at Guantánamo Bay Prison from entering the US on a blanket basis, except for prosecution.

The men whom the communities hope to welcome--Ahmed Belbacha, an Algerian, and Ravil Mingazov, a Russian--face a risk of persecution, torture, incarceration or death if returned to their home countries. Unlike the Uighurs, however, no other country has offered Belbacha and Mingazov a place to live.

For several years, Algerian detainee Ahmed Belbacha, whom the Bush administration cleared for transfer more than three years ago, has lived in fear of being sent back to Algeria, from where he fled Islamic terrorists' death threats in 1999. Last November, an Algerian court tried Belbacha in absentia and without legal representation for "belonging to a terror group" and sentenced him to 20 years imprisonment. Belbacha's lawyers at Reprieve, a legal action charity in London, have been unable to find out what Belbacha is supposed to have done. They characterize the sentence as retaliation for Belbacha's openness in describing the torture he would receive if repatriated.

The lawyers' fears that Belbacha would soon be returned to Algeria were heightened when Attorney General Eric Holder traveled to Algeria earlier this month to sign a treaty to boost cooperation in fighting crime and terrorism across borders. Last February, a US judge dissolved an injunction preventing Belbacha's repatriation, holding that the administration alone had authority to relocate detainees whom it has cleared for transfer. Belbacha's lawyers filed an emergency motion in US District Court for the District of Columbia to block Belbacha's repatriation. However, on Tuesday, a judge turned down that plea.

Ravil Mingazov fled Russia in 2001 to escape religious persecution and was captured in Pakistan. He is the last Russian at Guantánamo Bay Prison. Like Belbacha, Mingazov would rather stay in Guantánamo than be repatriated. Human Rights Watch has documented the fates of the seven other Russians at Guantánamo whom the US government repatriated in 2004. They were variously tortured, harassed, or imprisoned, and at least one of the seven was killed.

US District Judge Henry H. Kennedy, Jr., heard Mingazov's habeas corpus petition beginning on April 12th; a ruling is expected in approximately one month.

Mingazov and Belbacha are just two of the detainees that No More Guantánamos chapters nationwide want to help. There are many more detainees like them at Guantánamo in need of safe havens. NMG welcomes local coalitions to tell their stories and replace Americans' false assumptions about the men as being dangerous terrorists who cannot be released on US soil. If a dozen former detainees can safely be released in Palau, with a population of 21,000, with no army, then it is safe to release a few men in U.S. cities and towns.

 

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