Ghana takes in two former Guantanamo Bay detainees, Syrian and Rwandan refugees

Ms Hanna Tetteh - Minister for Foreign Affairs.
Ms Hanna Tetteh – Minister for Foreign Affairs.

The Government of Ghana has decided to host a number of Syrian refugees who have their relatives in Ghana, as well as two Rwandans and two Yemenis who were detained in Guantanamo Bay.

The two Rwandans are being accepted upon the request of the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda and are said to be persons who have either been tried, acquitted and discharged or have completed their sentences but are unable to return to their country.

According to a statement signed by Hanna Tetteh, Minister for Foreign Affairs and Regional Integration, the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda made the request towards the end of 2015.

The two refugees from Yemen on the other hand, are being accepted on the request of the US Government and are said to be detainees of Guantanamo who have been cleared of any involvement in terrorist activities but unable to return to Yemen presently.

The New York Times citing the Pentagon said the transfer of the two Yemeni men who had been imprisoned at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba, for nearly 14 years, represents the first time that lower-level detainees have been resettled in sub-Saharan Africa,

The transfer also marked the start of what is expected to be a flurry of 17 departures in early 2016.

After the resettlement, 105 detainees remain at Guantánamo, and 46 are recommended for transfer.

The two Yemenis are being accepted “for a period of two years after which they may leave the country”, the statement said, adding “Ghana recognizes that as a member of the International Community we have a responsibility to assist in International crises situations having regard to our own resources & capacity to assist, and it is in this regard that the Government has decided to take these actions.”

“We wish to assure the public that in doing so we are cognizant of the need to protect the safety and security of our own

Mohammed Omar Mohammed Bin Atef.
Mohammed Omar Mohammed Bin Atef

citizens and are taking all the necessary steps to ensure that is done”, the statement said.

The Foreign Minister assured, the refugees would be subject to security clearance and their activities will be monitored during their stay in the country.

But Ghanaians have been alarmed and there is outcry against the decision. Social media has been awash with criticisms and condemnations of the decision with some citizens fearing the possibility of these former combatants stating sleeper terrorist cells in the country.

The New York Times further indicates that the military identified the two Yemeni men transferred to Ghana as Khalid Mohammed Salih al-Dhuby and Mahmmoud Omar Mohammed Bin Atef.

“Both were born in Saudi Arabia but are considered citizens of Yemen based on their family and tribal ties, according to military dossiers leaked by Pvt. Chelsea Manning,” it said.

The Times report notes additionally that the men’s dossiers contend that each went to Afghanistan before the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, and were captured by Afghan forces in late 2001 and turned over to the United States. Some of the claims in the leaked dossiers have been contested by detainees or their lawyers or undercut by other evidence.

In 2009, each man was unanimously recommended for transfer by a six-agency task force, if security conditions could be met in the receiving country. But they remained stranded as wartime detainees because of persistent chaos in their native Yemen. Neither was ever charged with a crime.

The Times citing Mr. Bin Atef’s dossier says it indicates that he was a survivor of a well-known weeklong fight in late November 2001 at the Qala-i-Jangi fortress near Mazar-i-Sharif, where the Northern Alliance had taken hundreds of captured Taliban and foreign fighters.

During an uprising among the prisoners, a C.I.A. paramilitary operative was killed, as were hundreds of the captured fighters, many of whom had spent days hiding in tunnels that Northern Alliance forces flooded with water. The dossier does not accuse Mr. Bin Atef of personal involvement in the C.I.A. operative’s death, it adds.

Mr. Dhuby’s dossier, written in late 2006, said he had been mostly compliant with the guard force as a Guantánamo detainee. Mr. Bin Atef’s dossier, written in late 2007, said he had participated in protests by the prisoners and had threatened guards, including vowing to find out their identities and “sneak into their homes and cut their throats like sheep,” the times states.

The US government has thanked the Ghana government for accepting to take in the former detainees.

By Emmanuel K. Dogbevi & Emmanuel Odonkor

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