Guantánamo Uighurs Are Not Alone; US Community Welcomes Other Detainees Who Cannot Safely Be Repatriated
On April 22, attorneys for five Chinese Uighurs who remain at Guantánamo Bay prison will argue for their clients’ entry into the U.S at a hearing scheduled before the US Court of Appeals in Washington, DC. The men have been offered housing in the US and do not want to settle in Palau, where they are welcome. 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 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 have filed an emergency motion in US District Court for the District of Columbia to block Belbacha’s repatriation.
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.
No More Guantánamos [http://www.nogitmos.org] is a coalition of concerned U.S. residents, organizations, and attorneys who are working together to ensure justice for the prisoners at Guantánamo Bay, Bagram air base in Afghanistan, and other offshore prison sites maintained by the CIA and the Pentagon around the world. We work to ensure basic human rights for all prisoners, including the right to be either charged for crimes and tried in accordance with international law or released.
The organization formed soon after President Obama’s executive order to close Guantánamo Bay prison by January 22, 2009. Chapter locations include the Pioneer Valley, Massachusetts; New York City; Raleigh-Durham, North Carolina; Fort Collins, Colorado; and Tallahassee, Florida.
- Resolution by the Town of Amherst, MA, to Assist in the Safe Resettlement of Cleared Guantánamo Detainees, approved by Amherst Special Town Meeting on November 4, 2009.
- Human Rights Watch, The “Stamp of Guantánamo”: The Story of Seven Men Betrayed by Russia’s Diplomatic Assurances to the United States, March 2007, Vol. 19, No. 2(D), 52 pp., PDF, http://www.hrw.org/en/node/10989/section/1