Innocent, even when proven guilty?
In the wake of wannabe-jihadist Tarek Mehanna’s arrest in Sudbury, Mass., last week on terrorism charges, controversy has begun brewing over the Amherst Select Board’s request to resettle Guantanamo Bay detainees right here in town. That’s right – just when Massachusetts got rid of one violent terrorist, the town of Amherst had to go out and ask the federal government to send us some more.
According to an Oct. 21 article in the Boston Globe, the Amherst Select Board is specifically interested in welcoming detainees Ahmed Belbacha and Ravil Mingazov after they are released from the detention facility.
Department of Defense (DOD) records allege that Belbacha and Mingazov were both “defined as ‘an individual who was part of or supporting the Taliban or al Qaeda forces, or associated forces that are engaged in hostilities with the United States or its coalition partners.’” While Belbacha was “cleared for release” in 2006 after three years of detention, Mingazov has remained a prisoner in good standing since 2002.
But anti-Gitmo advocates seem to believe that the detentions of Belbacha and Mingazov were just part of some big, unfortunate misunderstanding. Ruth Hooke, a member of the detainee advocacy group No More Guantanamos (NMG), insisted to the Select Board that Belbacha and Mingazov are actually harmless to society.
“One of the reasons for doing this is to change the popular view and make it clear these [detainees] are not hostile people; they haven’t done anything,” she said, according to the Amherst Bulletin.
Hooke and other NMG activists argued that Belbacha and Mingazov were wrongly detained at Guantanamo from the get-go and “never committed hostile acts against the U.S. military or government,” reported the Amherst Bulletin on Oct. 23. According to the Amherst Bulletin, information given to Town Meeting members by the NMG “shows that Belbacha was vacationing in Pakistan when he was sold to the U.S. forces for a bounty, while Mingazov was arrested after he settled in a house for Muslim refugees in Pakistan.”
This information was compiled by activist journalist Andy Worthington, and also appears on the NMG’s website. According to Worthington’s book, “The Guantanamo Files,” the majority of his “facts” were actually gleaned from the personal accounts of detainees and their attorneys. So much for journalistic objectivity.
In reality, the widespread myth that many Gitmo detainees were just unlucky saps caught in the wrong place at the wrong time is pretty far-fetched – especially when you consider how difficult it is to qualify for detention at Guantanamo Bay.
According to a 2005 U.S. Senate review, more than 70,000 al Qaeda and Taliban fighters were captured by U.S. troops. Out of these combatants, 99 percent didn’t make the cut – an initial battlefield screening process determined that only 800 fighters were valuable enough to merit a trip to Guantanamo, reported a Feb. 13, 2004 DOD briefing.
Each of these potential detainees was then given legal representation and time to prepare a proper defense before facing a Combatant Status Review Tribunal (CSRT) hearing. The CSRT determined, by a majority vote and preponderance of evidence, whether the suspect was in fact an enemy combatant.
Each year, the detainees are also scrutinized individually by an administrative review board, which decides who is ready to be cleared for release. But “cleared for release” doesn’t necessarily mean innocent. Many of these “cleared” detainees are actually unrepentant terrorists who step out of Guantanamo and walk right back onto the battlefield.
According to a June 7 article in the New York Post, the Pentagon confirmed that “at least 74 former Guantanamo detainees have resumed terrorist activities after claiming they weren’t terrorists.”
And even the DOD admits that their own interrogators have been duped by many of the prisoners. “[Former] detainees successfully lied to U.S. officials, sometimes for over three years. Many detainees later identified as having returned to fight against the U.S. with terrorists falsely claimed to be farmers, truck drivers, cooks, small‐scale merchants or low‐level combatants. Other common cover stories include going to Afghanistan to buy medicines, to teach the Qur’an, or to find a wife. Many of these stories appear so often, and are subsequently proven false that we can only conclude they are part of their terrorist training,” the DOD reported in July 2007.
Prominent released terrorists who managed to fool the system include Mullah Shazada, a high-ranking Taliban leader who returned to terrorism, Abdulah Mehsud, a long-standing Taliban member who carried out a kidnapping and suicide bombing after leaving Gitmo and Muavi Abdul Ghaffar, who became one of the Taliban’s regional commanders after his release.
Never mind the fact that Belbacha and Mingazov were part of the 1.14 percent of captured combatants considered dangerous enough to make it into Guantanamo, or the fact that Belbacha and Mingazov were both detained for years, even as the prison released hundreds of other prisoners. Technicalities like this don’t seem to hold much sway over anti-Gitmo advocates, who are dying to see Belbacha and Mingazov relocated to Amherst.
“What I see is at the heart of this request is that people are suffering and we have a chance to alleviate that suffering,” gushed Select Board member Gerry Weiss in the Amherst Bulletin.
Can anyone really be this gullible and naïve?
Only in Amherst.
Alana Goodman is a Collegian columnist. She can be reached at email@example.com.