Massachusetts Daily Collegian

Innocent, even when proven guilty?

By Alana Goodman

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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 protected]


5 Responses to “Innocent, even when proven guilty?”

  1. Ed on November 4th, 2009 12:07 pm

    Actually, even Amherst is raising questions about this. In the most recent Amherst Bulletin (I get it mailed to me and hence get it sooner) Mohamed Ibrahim outlines just how guilty these specific individuals are. He is a member of the “Human Rights Commission” – QED the Amherst UberLeft. The best part:

    “Belbacha was not “vacationing in Pakistan” when he was arrested, as was reported in the Bulletin. He originally travelled to Afghanistan and had military training on small arms while staying in Jalalabad. He fled to Pakistan and was arrested at the borders when the coalition armies invaded Afghanistan. In 1997, Africa Action Organization, the International Women’s Human Rights Law Clinic and the Center for Constitutional Rights joined 1,500 Algerian refugees and other human rights activists in the U.S. to deny political asylum for the Algerian Anwar Haddam.

    Haddam was the political spokesman for the Islamic Salvation Front (FIS) and the Armed Islamic Group (GIA). Both organizations were responsible of running the Jalalabad guesthouse in Afghanistan where Belbacha had been staying and trained on small arms.”


  2. Larry Kelley on November 4th, 2009 4:05 pm

    The “advisory” warrant article Amherst Town Meeting will be discussing tonight on the Gitmo guys does not include the names of the two you mention (and yes, I have reservations about them in particular.)

    But I’m going to support it–and I am the most conservative guy in Town Meeting. The entire Warrant article is only 10 sentences and the word “cleared” appears four times.

    The state of Massachusetts allows level 3 sex offenders (meaning “the risk of reoffense is high”) to live in communities–and in fact Amherst has two. So why not guys who have been “cleared” of criminal wrongdoing?


  3. Ed on November 4th, 2009 10:19 pm

    The state of Massachusetts allows level 3 sex offenders (meaning “the risk of reoffense is high”) to live in communities–and in fact Amherst has two. So why not guys who have been “cleared” of criminal wrongdoing?

    Larry, there is a big difference between American citizens who were born her being permitted to live in this country, and non-citizens, who were not born-here, WHO HAVE NEVER BEEN IN THIS COUNTRY BEFORE being extended the PRIVILEGE of immigrating to this country.

    One is an American who has the right to live here (and who can’t be sent home because he is home. The other wants to, like the rest of the world, move to America but does NOT have the right to live here. In fact, being even accused of being a criminal is ground for him be booted out and have immigrant/citizenship revoked. The US did this to a lot of alleged Communists in the 1950s, and then there is the case of John Demjanjuk, an 89-year-old retired autoworker who was accused by the Germans of having been a Nazi war criminal.

    Why let someone with (a) no skills and (b) at best a spotty personal history immigrate into this country instead of someone like a doctor or musician or someone with a skill that could benefit this town. Why just add two more people to our overburdened social service network and two more welfare mouths to feed?


  4. Mike on November 5th, 2009 2:13 pm

    I completely agree with Ed on this issue.

    There is no reason the United States of America HAS to bring the released detainees into the country. There is nothing to be gained in this situation. At best, only some tax money will be lost. But in this time, can we really afford to support possible terrorists on our own soil?


  5. Andrew on November 6th, 2009 8:28 pm

    “vacationing in Pakistan” HA, as far as laughable alibis go no ones buying that one. On the other hand, I’m looking into a few timeshares there myself, I hear they’re nice.


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