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Leverett (MA) Town Meeting Approves Resolution to Welcome Cleared Guantánamo Detainees

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FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
April 24, 2010
 
CONTACTS:
Nancy Talanian, Director, No More Guantánamos, 413-665-1150, ntalanian@nogitmos.org
Elizabeth L. Adams, petitioner of the resolution, 413-722-7505, eadams333@gmail.com
 
Leverett, Mass.  On Saturday, Leverett voters at Town Meeting overwhelmingly approved a resolution welcoming one or two cleared Guantánamo Bay detainees to the community once Congress lifts its current ban. It is the second US municipality to do so. The resolution is identical to one approved on November 4, 2009, by Town Meeting members in nearby Amherst.
 
The resolution, Article 27 on the warrant, was the last article considered. Elizabeth Adams, a Leverett resident, initiated the resolution’s placement on the warrant by petition. She is a founding member of Pioneer Valley No More Guantánamos, which supported both the Amherst and Leverett resolutions. Adams also belongs to Witness Against Torture, a national organization.
 
Adams was pleased by town voters’ favorable vote, which she said "will go a long way toward healing the wounds inflicted on prisoners and our collective conscience by US torture policy and illegal indefinite detention."
 
Over several weeks leading up to the vote, Adams and other Leverett residents distributed information to residents about the resolution and the two men whom Pioneer Valley No More Guantánamos would like to welcome, Ahmed Belbacha, of Algeria, and Ravil Mingazov, the last Guantánamo detainee from Russia. The resolution itself does not name specific detainees, however.
 
The committee also organized a public forum, held in the Leverett Library on April 13, where several speakers, including two lawyers for some of the detainees, shared stories about several Guantánamo prisoners and knowledge about past and current government policies related to the prison and the detainees. Town residents who had attended the forum spoke in favor of the resolution at Town Meeting and responded to a few other residents’ concerns and questions, including the potential danger and costs to the town.
 
Portia Weiskel, a Leverett resident, said she was struck at the forum by individual stories of some of the men still held at the prison. She wanted her government representatives to know that “there is a community that stands for something.”
 
Another town resident, Joe Levine, explained why he felt both main clauses of the resolution were important. “If you send a letter saying ‘Lift the ban, but don’t bring them here,’ you’re being hypocritical.” He said it was necessary to say that Leverett is willing to do its share.
 
Nancy Talanian, director of No More Guantánamos and a member, with Adams, of its Pioneer Valley chapter, applauded the measure’s passage in Leverett. She said, “Leverett’s resolution supports the basic right of freedom for cleared Guantánamo Bay detainees who cannot safely return to their home countries. Without cooperation from U.S. communities and Congress, the long-awaited plan to close Guantánamo may not succeed.”
 
Talanian noted that Congress’s ‘not-in-our-backyard’ ban stands in the way of encouraging international cooperation in closing the prison. “Guantánamo detainees who cannot safely return home are really no different than other refugees whom western Massachusetts communities have welcomed in the past," she said.  "And if the US governemnt, which has held the men for more than eight years, can tell allied governments the men would not pose a danger if sent to live in their countries, then Americans should rest assured that we can be safe with some of them living here."
 
No More Guantánamos is a coalition of concerned U.S. residents, communities, 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 or released, in accordance with international law, and not held indefinitely, and to find homes for prisoners who cannot return home.
 
The organization formed soon after President Obama’s executive order to close Guantánamo Bay prison by January 22, 2009. Chapter locations besides the Pioneer Valley include Raleigh-Durham, North Carolina; New York City; Denver, Colorado; and Tallahassee, Florida.
 
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Media Advisory:
Resolution Text:
RESOLUTION BY THE TOWN OF LEVERETT, MA, TO ASSIST IN THE SAFE RESETTLEMENT OF CLEARED GUANTÁNAMO DETAINEES
 
WHEREAS, President Obama has vowed to close the prison at Guantánamo Bay Naval Base by January 2010; and
WHEREAS, many detainees at Guantánamo have been cleared by our government of wrongdoing and have been determined to pose no threat to the United States; and
WHEREAS, many of these detainees cannot be repatriated because they are either stateless or fear the harm awaiting them if returned to their home country; and
WHEREAS, our government has asked other countries to accept cleared detainees but has banned their settlement in the United States; and
WHEREAS, these detainees have suffered unjust imprisonment for many years; and
WHEREAS, the Pioneer Valley has many resources to help such detainees with trauma from their imprisonment; and
WHEREAS, the Pioneer Valley has welcomed in the past many refugees from a variety of traumatic experiences in other countries,
THEREFORE BE IT RESOLVED that the Leverett Town Meeting of April 24, 2010
1) Urges Congress to repeal the ban on releasing cleared detainees into the United States and
2) Welcomes such cleared detainees into our community as soon as the ban is lifted.
And BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED that copies of this Resolution be sent to the President and Attorney General of the United States, the United States Senators for Massachusetts, and the United States Representative for Massachusetts’ First District.
 
Information about the Pioneer Valley No More Guantánamos chapter and two detainees whom the group chose to assist