Meet the Detainees
At Amherst Town Meeting last Wednesday, residents approved the Amherst Select Board’s invitation to Guantanamo Bay inmates Ahmed Bin Saleh Bel Bacha and Magil Mingazov. But I doubt these detainees will truly be welcomed into the Amherst community.
Who exactly are these men and what evidence defines them as suspected terrorists? If a person is accused of a crime as serious as terrorism, I would at least like to meet him face-to-face before inviting them to be my neighbor. From The Guantánamo Docket, a New York Times database of Pentagon files on Guantanamo inmates, I have put together a summary:
Ahmed Bin Saleh Bel Bacha is a citizen of Algeria and has been detained for seven years. In 2001, he obtained a false French passport, costing, $1,200, which he used to travel to England. There, he attended sermons by Abu Hamza al-Masri. The notorious Abu Hamza preaches that it is a Muslim’s duty to kill non-believers. Guardian.co.uk published this excerpt from one of his speeches: “The size of the knife – you cannot slaughter him with this. You have to stab him here and there until he bleeds to death. Then you can cut up the meat as you like to, or leave it to the maggots. This is the first stage of Jihad.” Bel Bacha has had the opportunity to meet three Al Qaida leaders. In November 2001, at the approach of the U.S. Army, he fled into the mountains from an arms training camp in Jalalabad, Afghanistan. He was later captured on the Pakistan-Afghanistan border. He states that he does not want anything to do with the Armed Islamic Group because they are “terrorists and very bad people.” For this, he is being released.
Magil Mingazov is a citizen of Russia and has been detained in Guantanamo Bay for over seven years. He converted to Islam while serving in the Russian army and he immigrated to Afghanistan in March 2000. When he heard about recruitment at a terrorist training camp, he visited, on a whim, to find out how the Arabs there trained. He attended the camp for one month. Mingazov then attended bomb-making lessons in the Kara Karga region because “it was boring in Bagram, Afghanistan, and there wasn’t anything to do.” For two weeks, he learned how to make explosives from fertilizer and ammonia and how to synthesize various poisons. Mingazov has never met Osama bin Laden. But, he admits he has been “forced” to attend his speeches. He was captured in Pakistan with a number of Al Qaida suspects. Mingazov says he does not want to live in Russia, but “in a nice country among Muslims.” He is willing to share criminal information for U.S. or European citizenship.
These men intentionally affiliated themselves with anti-American terrorist organizations. How can we believe them when they tell us are not interested in being terrorists? They did not stumble across these training camps and terrorist rallies. They were men on a mission.
But whatever plans they had, we ruined them when we locked them up for seven years. If they disliked our country seven years ago, wouldn’t they dislike it even more now? They have concrete reasons to hate America. They aren’t just bitter taxpayers.
I am, to say the least, uncomfortable to have people with violent histories live nearby. I grew up in a neighborhood with a convicted sex offender. Even though the man had served his sentence, no parent would let their children play outside unsupervised. He was always watched and avoided.
If we will invite them, we will shake their hands. We will look them in the eye. But we will not trust them.
I believe deep down and no matter how liberal, each Amherst resident has their reservations. Even though some Amherst citizens are completely prepared to accept a detainee, they should still respect the insecurity of their neighbors. Sure, we stand for freedom and social justice, but our own people come first. Ahmed Bin Saleh Bel Bacha and Magil Mingazov might have changed their radical views after seven years of incarceration, but only they know for sure.
The members of the Amherst Select Board think that by inviting these men to live in our community, we are demonstrating trust in their innocence. This invitation is foolish and ignorant of the insecurity of others. Would it be fair if these men live across the street from a resident who voted “No?” Those who support this invitation feel they are setting an example of kindness to the world, but they are only adding to Amherst’s reputation for eccentric liberalism.
But let’s imagine Barack Obama does take them seriously. The FBI will probably buy the shack across the street. Restrictions? No pilot licenses, no fertilizer and no ammonia. Hopefully, Mingazov and Bel Bacha will get “bored” with all the college parties.
Shera Demchak is a Collegian columnist. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.