Amherst warrant article would send two current Guantanamo detainees to Amherst
A warrant article, or resolution, which proposes ending a ban on allowing freed former terror suspects to emigrate to America and offering two current Guantanamo Bay prison detainees the chance to move to Amherst will be debated at Amherst’s Town Meeting, which begins Nov. 2.
The article, introduced by Town Meeting member Ruth Hooke, who is also a member of the group, Pioneer Valley for No More Guantanamos, is one of 14 on the ballot at this year’s meeting.
To get an article on the ballot, one must obtain 100 signatures from citizens and submit it to the Select Board, according to Select Board Chair, Stephanie O’Keeffe.
The warrant article was put to a non-binding vote by the Select Board, which voted 2-1 minus two absent members to recommend the article last Monday.
O’Keeffe said that while there has been much speculation that the vote is in some way binding or actually put the measure into place, no such thing had happened and the Select Board merely voted on whether or not to recommend the article, as it does every other question.
“The Select Board is required to take a position on every warrant article for [the] Town Meeting,” she said. “We took a position on maybe half a dozen articles last week, nothing happens on any of the articles until Town Meeting.”
O’Keeffe said she personally does not support the article because she believes it is not pertinent to local politics and that decisions on national and international policy should be left to Congress and the president.
“I voted not to recommend the article because, first of all, I don’t think that the Town Meeting has the information and expertise necessary to offer productive guidance to Congress on this issue,” she said.
O’Keeffe continued to say that she feels the local government’s function is to address local issues, not foreign policy, and that she feels the town’s government would be better suited for other jobs.
“We’re elected to deal with local things, I think that it is a non-productive use of Town Meeting time,” she said. “Amherst town meeting deals with issues that are of national and international scope periodically, and my position is always that I don’t think it’s appropriate to be dealing with those issues, no matter what the issue is,” she elaborated.
The two Select Board members who voted for the article were Diana Stein and Gerald Weis.
Stein said she supported the article because she feels the two men invited to move to Amherst are innocent and should be welcomed.
“I decided to support this article when I saw the profiles of the two men and read about them,” she said. “The critical points for me is that we know, one, that the U.S. made mistakes and arrested people and two, that these men have been cleared by the U.S. of any crime.”
Stein said she believes supporting the measure “is the morally correct thing to do,” and that she believes it will help diversify the community.
“If Congress decides to let the cleared detainees into the country and they come, they will add to the diversity of our community,” she said.
Hooke, who introduced the measure, said she brought the article before the Town Meeting because she hopes it will bring the Guantanamo Bay issue greater attention.
“I figured it would be a way to bring this whole issue of Guantanamo before a larger public,” she said. “I think it’s a local issue, I think we are trying very hard to lift the ban on any Guantanamo detainees coming into this country,” she said of her group’s efforts.
Along with both Weis and O’Keeffe, Hooke stressed that the move would bring only cleared suspects to Amherst.
“They have not been charged with any crime, they have never been tried,” she said. “I believe in the principle that you are innocent until proven guilty, and our government has said they are no risk.”
Hooke said she hopes this move will create similar enthusiasm around the country.
“We hope there will be reverberations around the country,” she said. “Our president has said he wants to close Guantanamo by Jan. 22, we are helping the president,” she added.
O’Keeffe mentioned that Hooke’s legislation notes that similar efforts have been undertaken in North Carolina, Colorado, Florida and Virginia.
Sam Butterfield can be reached at email@example.com