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This is about doing the right thing

This past week, the town of Amherst passed a resolution to extend an invitation to two Guantanamo detainees. First, let us briefly discuss who these people are.

The two men are Ahmed Bel Bacha and Ravil Mingazov, who hail from Algeria and Russia, respectively. In 2007, military officers determined Bel Bacha to not be a threat to the safety and security of the United States. According to Amherst Town Meeting member Ruth F. Hooke, Bel Bacha was put into captivity by the United States in Pakistan in 2001. He had left the United Kingdom, where he was seeking political asylum from death threats he received in 1999. Mingazov converted to Islam and moved to Afghanistan and then Pakistan. There, he was seized and taken to Guantanamo Bay under suspicion of being connected to known Al Qaeda operatives.

While the United States Congress seems to now be skeptical of whether or not these men are guilty, it is quite understandable to take what Congress has to say with a grain of salt. After all, Congress both allowed these detentions to take place and is now attempting in many cases to retract them. Somewhere along the line, Congress made a big mistake either in the former or latter case, and has lost more of its credibility. It cannot be clear whether Congress is doing this due to legitimate legal and moral reasons, or simply because it is under enough public pressure to do so.

Either way, the local resolution to extend the invitation to these two men has already been passed. Be this as it may, there is no guarantee the Amherst area will see either of these people in the first place. And while there is reason to be weary of Congress, we need to be objective about how we proceed. There are a lot more obstacles that will keep these two men from posing any kind of serious threat to the community.

First, according to the Amherst resolution, the municipality will not be using any tax dollars to support these people. This means that they will come with no financial or housing support, which would be enough to deter most people from going anywhere in a foreign country – if they even decide to accept the invitation at all.

Second, if these men settle here, anyone can bet bottom dollar that they will live under surveillance from government agencies or private citizens, whether legally or not. If either of them conspire to commit an act of terrorism, he will likely be caught – this time for legitimate and verifiable reasons even if it that were previously not the case.

Third, none of this will come to fruition if Congress decides not to lift the ban on allowing detainees to settle in the United States. It is very possible this will never happen, as few Congressmen want to be responsible for any domestic attack that may happen as a result of their unleashing captives. This is especially true since the ban seems to be generally popular nationally, and Congressmen do not want to harm their chances for re-election.

Of course, this all assumes these people are enemies of the United States at all.

Also, remember that the whole world is watching how we are treating the issue of the Guantanamo detainees. Numerous human rights groups and foreign nations have duly taken note of past abuses and recent actions toward policy change. With the image of the United States seriously tarnished and in need of a boost, releasing some of them will certainly not hurt our international relations.

But this is not really the principled aspect of the issue. Perhaps more importantly is how our judicial system has become an unacceptable approximation of the philosophically sound ideal mandated by the federal Constitution. Having a high standard of evidence and objectivity in the courts is absolutely essential to a truly just legal system.

Detaining anyone for any reason without due reason and evidence is an assault these principles. Perhaps we may not care so much when foreign captives are denied habeas corpus because it does not concern us directly. But, as with all erosions of principles, this one is likewise gradual. And we are going to have to start caring if our government uses such a policy on us.

If nothing else, these recent developments may send a message to our government regarding something greater than how we decide to treat a couple of people: There is a limit to what is an acceptable divergence from these ideals, and that limit is being approached rapidly.

Brian Benson is a Collegian columnist. He can be reached at bbenson@student.umass.edu.

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