Ghana becomes first country in Africa to take in Guantanamo Bay detainees

Mohammed Omar Mohammed Bin Atef.
Mahmud Omar Mohammed Bin Atef – one of the two detainees in Ghana.

As President Barack Obama purposes to close down Guantanamo Bay before he leaves office in less than a year, the US government has started what would be the largest round of transfers of Guantanamo Bay detainees in a month since 2007, and Ghana becomes the first country in Africa to take in detainees.

A New York Times report published December 16, 2015 citing officials familiar with the plan say the move could reduce the detainee population in Guantanamo Bay to as low as 90 by mid-January, 2016 and Ghana has become the first country in sub-Sahara Africa to take in two of the detainees.

The detainees were transferred to Ghana January 6, 2016.

Meanwhile, the Ghana Ministry of Foreign Affairs only made the information known to citizens in a press statement the same day.

Reports indicate that US Defence Secretary Ashton B. Carter had notified Congress that he has approved 17 proposed transfers of lower-level detainees.

The decision to find countries that would be willing to accept the detainees is because the Republican-led Congress has been uninterested in lifting a ban on bringing any detainees to a prison inside the United States, which is Mr. Obama’s plan for those who are either facing trial or are deemed too dangerous to release.

The US government has expressed gratitude to the Ghanaian government. “The United States is grateful to the government of Ghana for its humanitarian gesture and willingness to support ongoing U.S. efforts to close the Guantánamo Bay detention facility,” a Pentagon spokesman, Cmdr. Gary Ross, said in a statement, as quoted by the New York Times.

The two detainees transferred to Ghana are Khalid Mohammed Salih al-Dhuby and Mahmud Omar Mohammed Bin Atef.

The two men who were born in Saudi Arabia are considered Yemeni citizens based on their family and tribal ties according to military dossiers leaked by Pvt. Chelsea Manning.

The New York Times further notes that the men’s dossiers indicate that each of the men went to Afghanistan before the terrorist attacks of September 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.

Mr. Bin Atef’s dossier says 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.

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 transfers also represented the first time that lower-level detainees have been resettled in sub-Saharan Africa, suggesting that the State Department is widening the aperture of its diplomatic efforts to find homes for those on the transfer list, the report said.

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

A list of the detainees to be transferred.

By Emmanuel K. Dogbevi

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