Sunday 7 June 2009

What do we do with suspected terrorists who are released from Guantanamo Bay?

Canada has refused a plea from the Obama administration to take in 17 Chinese Muslims imprisoned without charge for more than seven years at Guantanamo Bay. The Uighur captives have been cleared for release by U.S. courts but are stuck at the Cuban prison until Washington finds a country willing to provide asylum.

Kory Teneycke, spokesperson for Prime Minister Stephen Harper said inquiries made in May 2009 concerning the Uighurs were rebuffed by the prime minister. He said that there were security concerns related to Guantanamo detainees. He added that there really is no rationale for accepting them into the country. Our laws prevent a known terrorist from being released in our country.

China has requested the return of the Uighurs (pronounced WEE-gurs) but the U.S. has refused, due to fears of possible torture since Beijing has waged a campaign against the separatist activities of Muslim Uighurs from Xinjiang Autonomous Region. Those Uyghurs who were caught in Afghanistan were part of a separatist movement in China. They are Muslims. They were training in Afghanistan to go back to China to take on the Chinese government. They have been determined to no longer be enemy combatants in terms of a threat from the al-Qaida perspective, but what do the Americans do with the Uyghurs?

President Barack Obama has vowed to close Guatanamo's prison by the end of January 2010 and the Uighur cases present some of the legal and diplomatic challenges his administration faces in dealing with the remaining 240 detainees. Making an appeal to European nations in April, U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder encouraged all nations to make sacrifices and unpopular choices to help close Guantanamo. Only two detainees have been released since Obama took power and the administration has refused to settle any prisoners in the United States.

On July 19 of 2007, the Senate voted 94 to 3 that detainees housed at Guantanamo Bay should not be released into American society, nor should they be transferred stateside into facilities in American communities and neighborhoods.

The Uighur detainees were captured in Afghanistan in late 2001, but have been cleared for release since 2004. Albania accepted five in 2006 but no other country has since offered to provide refuge. A U.S. federal judge ordered the Uighurs be given sanctuary in the U.S. because the Pentagon no longer considered them enemy combatants. The Bush administration appealed the ruling, which was overturned as a result of the appeal.

The Americans may not think of them as enemy combatants but they had traveled to Afghanistan from China to fight with the Taliban. I personally don’t think that Canada should become a dumping ground for these kinds of people. We have enough undesirables already in Canada.

There is no doubt in my mind that these people should not be returned to China unless China is prepared to guarantee that these five people will not be imprisoned and tortured upon their return to China. Returning them to Afghanistan may also result in them being imprisoned and possibly tortured there. If upon arrival in Afghanistan, they are not imprisoned, they may simply join the Taliban again. We now know that as many as 61 detainees previously released from Guantanamo Bay have returned to the battlefield, many of whom are now waging war against Americans. The prisoners already released were believed to be the least dangerous and yet many have returned to the battlefield.

Earlier this year, we learned that one former Guantanamo Bay detainee, Said Ali al-Shihri, is currently serving as the deputy leader of al-Qaida in Yemen. Those terrorists are directly responsible for the 2008 bombing of the U.S. Embassy in Yemen in which 10 people were murdered. Even though Al-Shihri was transferred from Guantanamo Bay to Saudi Arabia for a period of rehabilitation, he rejoined al-Qaida and assumed a leadership role in the planning and execution of terrorist acts. With this knowledge, can we be serious that we would abandon the security of Guantanamo Bay for an alternative of foreign transfers that could pose harm to ourselves and our allies; and especially to our young men and women serving right now in the military in the Middle East? One in ten that were released from Guantanamo Bay has gone back to the fight for al-Qaida. The No. 2 al-Qaida operative in Somalia was previously a detainee at Guantanamo Bay. There was a suicide bomber in Iraq who blew himself up who was previously a detainee at Guantanamo Bay.

The Obama administration says that there are 60 Guantanamo Bay inmates that can not be returned to their own countries because of humanitarian or other concerns. What is to become of them if no country will accept them? This is a political problem that may very well be impossible to solve.

Obviously, something has to be done with the people being held at Guantanamo Bay. The problem would be solved if Europe would accept some of them, but it is wrong for the United States to ask the countries in Europe to do so if the Americans are unwilling to accept them into their own country. If Americans will not tolerate the presence of Guantanamo inmates in the United Sates, how can they ask Europeans to do so?

When President Obama announced by Executive order that he would close Guantanamo Bay, my initial reaction was, ‘What are they going to do with these prisoners? What is the plan? We have not seen a plan, yet the Americans have an order that says they are going to close Guantanamo Bay with no plan for what the Americans should do with the prisoners.’

I doubt that any nation wants to house these terrorists; but bringing them to Canada would also violate a federal law that specifically forbids entry into our country of anyone who endorses or espouses terrorism, has received terrorist training or belongs to a terrorist organization.

Clearly, the stakes are high and the concerns are real with regard to the terrorist population at Guantanamo. The terrorists at Guantanamo are the worst of the worst, some of the most dangerous people in the world. They are obviously no longer enemy combatants but that doesn’t mean that they won’t become enemy combatants once they are released. They include 27 al-Qaeda leaders, including the mastermind of the September 11 attacks; key al-Qaeda operatives and Osama bin Laden lieutenants, as well as the orchestrator of the attack on the USS Cole, which killed 17 American sailors in October 2000. In total, 241 terrorists remain under military guard at Guantanamo. Of these, the Bush administration stated that 110 of them should never be released because of the danger they pose to Americans.

If they committed those crimes, then they should be incarcerated for the rest of their lives. But what is to be done with those who have been deemed to not have been terrorists but simply enemy combatants? I wish I had an answer for that problem but unfortunately, I do not.

UPDATE: The tropical Pacific island nation of Palau announced on June 10, 2009 that it will accept up to 17 Chinese Muslims who have languished in legal limbo at Guantanamo Bay. Palau is one of a handful of countries that does not recognize China and maintains diplomatic relations with Taiwan. Two U.S. officials, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said the U.S. was prepared to give Palau up to $200 million (U.S.) in development, budget support and other assistance in return for accepting the Uighurs and as part of a mutual defence and co-operation treaty to be renegotiated this year.

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