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No More Guantanamos

April 2010 Newsletter

In this issue:

 
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Two Detainees' Stories

Guantánamo detainees are easy targets for politicians to vilify, and then to assure their constituents that they are protecting them by keeping Guantánamo open, or by keeping the fictionalized men out of the U.S. The strategy works because the detainees have been silenced and cannot dispute claims that they are “terrorists.” These tactics help explain a recent CNN poll indicating that U.S. support for keeping Guantánamo Bay prison open has risen to 60%.
 
We can be the detainees' voices, however, and that is what NMG chapters do, so that America’s debate about closing Guantánamo Bay prison can be based upon facts about real people and not fictional characters created to instill fear.
 
Here are recent stories about two current detainees whom the Pioneer Valley (MA) NMG (PVNMG) chapter chose to champion last spring. It was with these two men in mind that Amherst Town Meeting passed a resolution on November 4, 2009, to welcome a few cleared detainees to their community. Other cities and towns will consider similar resolutions in the next few months. Contact us to form a chapter in your community, and we will help you choose a detainee from those currently at Guantánamo Bay prison in Cuba or at Bagram prison in Afghanistan.

Ravil Mingazov organizes food aid for Haiti

Ravil Mingazov, the last Russian detainee at Guantánamo, is in Camp 4, which houses the most compliant detainees. Through their limited TV privileges, the men saw the earthquake devastation in Haiti. They also learned from some of their lawyers that the Marine base at Guantánamo Bay is being used as the staging area for relief shipments to Haiti.
 
Mingazov has now organized a food drive for the victims. He and other Camp 4 inmates have been collecting their unopened food and drink, which the guards normally discard, and they are asking the guards to help them ship it to Haiti with the other relief supplies. Read the story here.
 
PVNMG members know Mingazov’s story, and they are not surprised by his humanitarian gesture. While in the Russian army, Mingazov distinguished himself by transforming a local food distribution program in disarray into a model program—the army's best. Later, however, his conversion to Islam while still in the army drew persecution, followed by harassment when he pleaded with superiors to treat him and other Muslim soldiers fairly. After his house was searched and ransacked by the KGB, Mingazov left Russia—with neither a passport nor much money for travel—in search of a safe home in a Muslim country for himself, his wife, and their baby son. 
 
While Mingazov was en route to Afghanistan and, eventually Pakistan, his fellow Muslims helped him with transportation, housing, money, and food. His gratitude for those donors’ generosity apparently has stayed with him throughout more than eight years of imprisonment in Afghanistan and Guantánamo. For example, Mingazov consistently refused his interrogators' requests to speak against his fellow detainees—in exchange for which his interrogators may have promised him better treatment, as they often did, and then used the detainees' false confessions and incriminations of others to justify keeping many innocent men at Guantánamo for years. Mingazov’s explanation for his refusal to succumb to these requests is recorded in the transcript of his administrative review board hearing on June 13, 2006:
 
“The detainee refuses to say anything about his fellow detainees because they are fellow Muslims that have given him their last piece of bread even though they were starving.”
 
PVNMG hopes the Guantánamo guards will help transport the food that Mingazov and his fellow inmates have collected for the Haitians. They also hope Mingazov will be freed soon after his habeas corpus hearing on April 12 and that they will someday be able to meet this gentle and generous man.

Ahmed Belbacha and others lose judicial protection from repatriation

On March 22, the Supreme Court left intact the D.C. Circuit Court’s April 2008 ruling in Kiyemba v. Obama. The lower court ruling, known informally as “Kiyemba II,” took away federal judges’ power to block or even to delay the administration’s transfers of cleared detainees out of Guantánamo Bay prison. For example, Ahmed Belbacha, who fled Islamic extremists who threatened his life and the lives of other government workers in Algeria, no longer has the protection of a judge’s injunction barring his repatriation to the country from which he fled terrorists.
 
Belbacha moved to the U.K., where he found work cleaning hotel rooms and applied for asylum. After his first application was turned down, he appealed, but during the long wait for his appeal hearing, he lost his job during an economic downturn. Fearing deportation, he bought a six-month round-trip ticket to Pakistan, where he could live more cheaply and study the Koran for free while waiting for his asylum appeal to be heard.
 
The September 11th attacks derailed Belbacha’s plans when he become one of hundreds of unlucky men who were seized in Pakistan and sold to the U.S. military for advertised bounties, then transported to Guantánamo. In January 2002, an asylum judge rejected Belbacha’s appeal for asylum when he did not appear at his hearing, not knowing that Belbacha was imprisoned at Guantánamo Bay. By 2006, the Bush administration realized that Belbacha was no threat to the U.S. or its allies and cleared him for release in early 2007—back to Algeria, even though the U.S. cannot legally repatriate someone who has a well-documented fear of torture or abuse.
 
Had Belbacha not been sold for a bounty, he would have returned to the U.K. on his own and may have been granted asylum in 2002. However, because he had no legal status in the U.K. when he was sent by mistake to Guantánamo, he was not on the list of U.K. citizens and legal residents at Guantánamo whom the U.K. allowed to return. He is a man without a country. Now, in addition to his well-documented fears at the hands of Islamic extremists, the Algerian government has sentenced him to 20 years of imprisonment in absentia on trumped up charges, most likely because he has rejected U.S. offers to return him to Algeria.
 
The Town of Amherst, Massachusetts, welcomes both Belbacha and Mingazov, who cannot safely return to Russia, but Congress’s ban stands in the way.  That ban prevents any former detainees from entering the U.S. except for prosecution. It expires on September 30 of this year, but Congress will likely renew it unless the American people gain a realistic view of the men held at Guantánamo and elsewhere and support justice for them, including allowing some of the men to resettle in the U.S.  If each American were to know the story of one human being still held at Guantánamo, it could cast enough doubt about the common myths and exaggerations about the men imprisoned there to support the prison's closure with justice.

Grassroots News

Pioneer Valley, Massachusetts

Public forum to support a Guantánamo resolution in Leverett, MAOn April 13 at 7:30 p.m., PVNMG, Leverett supporters of a Guantánamo resolution, and the ACLU of Massachusetts will host a public forum at the town’s library to discuss a resolution identical to the resolution passed by Amherst Town Meeting in November. Read the resolution here.
 
Speakers at the forum: 
  • Buz Eisenberg represents several detainees held at Guantánamo Bay prison and chairs the board of the International Justice Network;
  • Carol Gray teaches law-related topics at Greenfield Community College and has taught at Western New England College School of Law and Hampshire College;
  • William Newman, director of the Western Regional Office of the American Civil Liberties Union of Massachusetts, has represented Guantánamo Bay detainees.

Northampton resolution proposed. PVNMG’s Northampton members have proposed a similar resolution and have begun meeting with City Council members and with the city’s Human Rights Commission to build support toward its passage. The group and allied organizations such as the Pioneer Valley Coalition Against Secrecy and Torture have hosted forums and video showings about Guantánamo in Northampton for several years.
 
Documentary Outside the Law shown in NorthamptonOn March 19, the group cosponsored a showing of the documentary Outside the Law: Stories from Guantánamo directed by Andy Worthington and Polly Nash, in Northampton, with the Northampton Committee to Stop the War in Iraq. Andy could not attend, but he wrote a statement that was read at the showing.
 

New York, New York 

Witness Against Torture, based in New York City, joined NMG’s New York City chapter in March. At their next meeting, they will choose two detainees—one at Guantánamo and one at Bagram—and will use those detainees’ stories in their ongoing work to close Guantánamo Bay prison with justice.
 
Witness Against Torture formed in 2005 when 25 Americans went to Guantánamo Bay and attempted to visit the detention facility. After they returned, they began to organize more broadly to shut down Guantanamo, working with interfaith, human rights and activists' organizations. They have organized a series of nonviolent direct actions to expose and decry the administration's lawlessness, build awareness about torture and indefinite detention amongst Americans, and forge human ties with the prisoners at Guantanamo and their families. These campaigns have drawn human rights activists from across the U.S.
 
For example, in 2009, the group carried out The 100 Days Campaign to Shut Down Guantanamo and End Torture in Washington, DC, which began on President Obama’s inauguration day and ended April 30, 2009. In January 2010, beginning on the prison's eighth anniversary and ending on President Obama's deadline for closing the prison, the group held a 12-day campaign in Washington. Activities included a fast, demonstrations, lobby visits, and public education events.
 
Witness Against Torture is one of NMG’s colleague organizations, and we are honored to have their leadership and involvement in New York.
 
To join a chapter of No More Guantánamos or to form a new chapter, click here or contact us.

Correction

In the article “Supreme Court’s Dismissal May Further Delay Releases of Cleared Detainees” in our March 2010 newsletter, we incorrectly reported that the Supreme Court, in dismissing the case of Kiyemba v. Obama, had sent the case back to the DC district court. The Supreme Court vacated the decision of the DC Circuit Court of Appeals, and it is that court, not the district court, that must rule on the case. NMG apologizes for its error.

No More Guantánamos
P.O. Box 618
Whately, MA 01093
Telephone: 413-665-1150
 
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