Two Yemeni prisoners held at the US base in Cuba have been released and sent to the West African nation for resettlement. Ghanaians fear a security risk despite government reassurances.
Mahmud Umar Muhammad Bin Atef and Khalid Muhammad Salih Al-Dhuby, both Yemeni nationals, were released from Guantanamo Bay on Wednesday and will be resettled in Ghana. They will initially be allowed to stay for two years, subject to security checks, the Ghanaian government has said. The move is part of US President Barack Obama's drive to close the detention center by the end of his term in office.
Both have been held for more than a decade without charge. The Pentagon said that Al-Dhuby was cleared for release in 2006 and Bin Atef since 2009. They have been approved for transfer since the beginning of 2010, according to government files posted online by the New York Times. The US would not return them to their native Yemen due to civil war in the country and had to find another country to accept them. Navy Commander Gary Ross, a Pentagon spokesman, thanked the Ghanaian government for its “humanitarian gesture” in accepting the prisoners.
US reliant on other countries
This is the first time Ghana has accepted Guantanamo prisoners, although other African countries, such as Uganda and Cap Verde, have received transfers from the facility in the past.
The US started housing terrorist suspects at Guantanamo Bay shortly after the attacks on the country on September 11, 2001. Obama's 2009 promise to close the facility has been blocked by Congress, which has objected to any transfers to the US, whether for trial or release.
There are still 105 prisoners at Guantanamo, which has been criticized for alleged human rights violations.
But human rights group Amnesty International says the US should not be relying on outside assistance in its move to close Guantanamo. "The US administration is expecting of other countries what it itself refuses to do, despite being the authority, the country, which created this problem in the first place," Rob Freer of Amnesty International told DW. 105 prisoners are still being held at Guantanamo Bay, including nearly 50 who have been cleared for release. "The USA is responsible for this and has not done what it could to end this human rights injustice," Freer said.
Former extremists 'low risk'
After the US requested the transfers a year ago, Ghana sent its US ambassador to the Guantanamo Bay facility to interview the detainees and assess the risk they could pose to the country, Ghana's Communications Minister Edward Boamah told Reuters.
US government documents identify al-Dhuby as a "probable member" of al Qaeda who had travelled to Aghanistan to fight. Bin Atef, an “admitted member” of the Taliban, was also in Afghanistan when he was captured, the documents said. The two men are part of a group of 17 'low-risk' detainees whose transfer was approved by US Defense Secretary Ashton Carter in December.
The Ghanaian government has sought to allay concern among the public about a potential security threat. But West African analyst Emmanuel Bensah was sceptical about its decision to accept the detainees. “I am not quite sure why the government is doing this, especially at a time when we have elections, when we have security issues at the fore," he told DW.
President Obama promised to close Guantanamo by 2010, but it remains in use as a detention facility.
On the streets of Ghana's capital Accra, many were outraged by their government's decision to accept the detainees. "Guantanamo Bay is a maximum security center so somebody who has been kept there, having links to terrorist groups, whether confirmed or otherwise, and coming to Ghana, I think it is a major concern," local resident Tony Okine told DW.
Fellow Accra resident Osei Amankwah agreed. "I am scared because it is dangerous, because we don't know what they are coming here to do," she said. "We shouldn't have accepted them. We have our own troubles."
But others disagreed. "I think we should accept them because we also go for aid from other countries so if they need help from Ghana we can also help them." Asabea Siaw told DW.
More detainees to come
As well as the Yemenis, two Rwandans who were tried by the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda for crimes relating to the 1994 Rwandan genocide would be allowed to settle in the country. They are part of a group of people who had been either acquitted or sentenced, but didn't want to be resettled in Rwanda, according to Ghana's foreign ministry.
Ghana, a stable democracy which prides itself on its humanitarian values, said that it would also be taking in some Syrian refugees with relatives in Ghana, but did not specify how many. It said that all those allowed into the country would be monitored.
Ghana is a predominantly Christian nation, but around a fifth of the population are Muslims and Islam is particularly strong in the north of the country.