Newly appointed US Ambassador to Ghana, Jackson walking into a storm over Guantanamo Bay

Ambassador Robert Jackson
Ambassador Robert Jackson

Even before he arrives and settles in the country to present his Letter of Credence to Ghana’s President John Mahama to officially start work as newly appointed US Ambassador to Ghana, Robert Porter Jackson has already been caught, literally into the eye of a brewing storm – the issue of Guantanamo Bay former detainees in Ghana.

This won’t be the first time a newly appointed US diplomat is arriving at a time a controversial issue is playing out in the host nation or duty post.

The immediate past Press Officer of the Embassy in Ghana, Jeane Clark arrived in Ghana in 2011 to resume duty and was caught in the thick of discussions of the Wikileaks cable revelations – in which Ghana public officials featured in some  controversial issues –  Minister of Foreign Affairs, Hannah Tetteh’s name popped up at that time, just as in the current one.

The incoming Ambassador, Jackson swore the oath of office in Washington DC November 20, 2015. He will be replacing the immediate past Ambassador Gene Cretz.

A statement from the Embassy announcing Jackson’s swearing-in, said his nomination was confirmed by the US Senate October 22, 2015 and is expected to arrive in Ghana and take up his duties in Accra in early January 2016.

But the tense debate surrounding Ghana accepting two ex-detainees from Guantanamo Bay at the request of the US government wouldn’t be a pleasant situation to start work in, even for a very experienced diplomat like Jackson.

He has served as the US Department of State’s Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary for African Affairs since October 2013. From 2010 to 2013 he was the US Ambassador to the Republic of Cameroon.

He has served in the following countries in various capacities:

  • Deputy Chief of Mission and Charge d’Affaires, a.i., Rabat, Morocco
  • Deputy Chief of Mission and Charge d’Affaires, a.i., Dakar, Senegal
  • Political/Economic Counselor, Abidjan, Cote d’Ivoire
  • Political-Military Officer, Lisbon, Portugal
  • Chief of the Political Section, Harare, Zimbabwe
  • Political/Economic Officer in Bujumbura, Burundi
  • Consular/Economic Officer in Montreal, Canada

Most Ghanaians are furious and unhappy with the Ghana government’s handling of the matter – especially regarding the veil of secrecy surrounding the deal with the Americans.

The two men were quietly flown into Ghana January 6, 2016, and news about it started a stormy debate.

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

According to the New York Times, 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.

The Ghana government initially said the US government was bearing the full responsibility of ‘taking care’ of the two men. But a US Embassy official Daniel Fennell in a TV interview indicated that Ghana was paying as well for the upkeep of the men, stating that ‘it is a shared responsibility’, but he has since retracted.

The situation isn’t being made any better as it gets murkier by the day, with Ghana’s Minister of the Interior, Mark Woyongo and the Minister of Foreign Affairs, Hannah Tetteh both claiming not to be privy to some of the information concerning the two men.

Some Ghanaians have asked for the impossible to be done – that is Ghana sending the two men back. Most fear these men are still dangerous, but the government has insisted they are no threats to citizens. President Mahama in trying to assail the fears of citizens said they should rather fear road traffic accidents which they are more likely to die from, than from these two men, “who only want to pick the pieces of their lives.”

Meanwhile, the US government has offered its profuse gratitude to the Ghana government for the gesture, which President Mahama described as done out of his ‘Christian compassion’.

As Ambassador Jackson settles in Ghana, it would be curious to see how he handles the matter. Would the dust stirred by this development dampen or spur his diplomatic skills into action?

By Emmanuel K. Dogbevi

Email: [email protected]

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