Tuesday, May 18, 2010

[wvns] Massachusetts Welcomes Guantánamo Detainee

Two Massachusetts Towns Welcome Guantánamo Detainee Ordered Released by a Federal Judge
May 14, 2010

CONTACT: No More Guantánamos

Nancy Talanian, Director, No More Guantánamos, 413-665-1150, ntalanian@nogitmos.org
Ruth Hooke, Amherst, MA, 413-256-8441, rhooke@uww.umass.edu
Elizabeth L. Adams, Leverett, MA, 413-522-7505, eadams333@gmail.com

WASHINGTON - May 14 - On Thursday, US District Judge Henry H. Kennedy, Jr., granted Guantanamo detainee Ravil Mingazov's petition for a writ of habeas corpus and ordered the Obama administration to release him from the military prison at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba, finding the administration had no legal basis for holding him. Mingazov is the 35th detainee to win his habeas petition out of 48 whose petitions have been reviewed.

The administration must now decide where it will send Mingazov, who like most of the remaining detainees already cleared, cannot safely return to his home country. Mingazov, a Russian, fled religious persecution in his home country in 2001. Congress passed a ban last year that currently prevents any former detainees from entering the US except for prosecution.

Two communities in Massachusetts—Amherst and Leverett—have passed resolutions welcoming a few cleared detainees once Congress lifts its current blanket ban. Mingazov is one of two detainees whom the towns have in mind to welcome. Ahmed Belbacha, an Algerian who was cleared for transfer by the Bush administration more than three years ago, is the second detainee.

The resolutions that Amherst Special Town Meeting and Leverett Town Meeting passed on November 4, 2009, and April 24, 2010, respectively, were initiated by Ruth Hooke and Beth Adams. Both women are local members of No More Guantánamos [http://www.nogitmos.org], a national grassroots organization working to ensure justice for the prisoners at Guantánamo Bay, Bagram air base in Afghanistan, and other offshore prison sites maintained by the CIA and the Pentagon around the world.

Nancy Talanian, director of No More Guantánamos, says that the organization's chapters around the country each choose one or two detainees and share the men's stories through events, literature, and media to show the public that all Guantánamo detainees are human beings who deserve basic human rights, rather than the monsters that some government officials have described.

"Our Pioneer Valley chapter chose Ravil Mingazov and Ahmed Belbacha last spring," Talanian said. "Although Ravil had not yet been cleared, our members were confident that he had done nothing wrong and should be released. We are very happy that the judge agrees."

Talanian believes the resolutions' passage shows that Americans who know the stories of actual detainees are more willing than the majority of Americans who continue to believe the men are all `the worst of the worst,' despite the releases of more than 600 former detainees, most by the Bush administration.

"Congress's blanket ban on allowing any of the men to live here is standing in the way of the prison's closure, which we believe will make Americans safer," she said. "Guantánamo detainees who cannot safely return home are really no different than other refugees whom western Mass. communities have welcomed in the past," she said. "And if the US government, which has held the men for more than eight years, claims the men would not pose any danger if they are sent to live in allied countries, that should be sufficient assurance that we can be safe with some of them living here."

No More Guantánamos [http://www.nogitmos.org] is a coalition of concerned U.S. residents, communities, organizations, and attorneys who are working together to ensure justice for the prisoners at Guantánamo Bay, Bagram air base in Afghanistan, and other offshore prison sites maintained by the CIA and the Pentagon around the world. We work to ensure basic human rights for all prisoners, including the right to be either charged for crimes and tried or released, in accordance with international law, and not held indefinitely, and to find homes for prisoners who cannot return home.

The organization formed soon after President Obama's executive order to close Guantánamo Bay prison by January 22, 2009. Chapter locations besides the Pioneer Valley include Raleigh-Durham, North Carolina; New York City; Denver, Colorado; and Tallahassee, Florida.


U.S. court orders ex-Russian dancer freed from Guantánamo

A federal court on Thursday ordered the Pentagon to set free from Guantánamo a former Russian Army ballet dancer turned devout Muslim whose plight captured the imagination of a Massachusetts college town.

Judge Henry Kennedy Jr. ordered the Obama administration to take "all necessary and appropriate diplomatic steps … forthwith" to release Ravil Mingazov, 42, an ethnic Tartar who was captured in Pakistan in 2002 and turned over to U.S. forces.

Thursday's midday ruling raised to 35 the number of Guantánamo detention cases the U.S. government has lost since the U.S. Supreme Court ruled two years ago that the war-on-terror captives can sue for their freedom in federal courts.

he Justice Department has so far successfully defended the indefinite detention of 13 Guantánamo captives.

With the Pentagon still holding 181 foreign men at Guantánamo, dozens more habeas corpus petitions are yet to be heard.

Justice Department spokesman Dean Body said Thursday afternoon that government lawyers were "reviewing the ruling," which was still being declassified. Kennedy gave the government until June 15 to report back.

The Guantánamo captive's Washington D.C. attorney, Douglas K. Spaulding, said his client had yet to hear of the ruling but the lawyer had reached the captive's mother in central Russia, where she was "very gratified to hear that Judge Kennedy had entered this order."

The son was a one-time ballet and folkloric dancer as a civilian in the Russian Army who became devout after the fall of the Soviet Union and fled his homeland in 2000, for religious freedom.

The mother, he said, is a "former Soviet-era agro-economist now in her 70s who prays to live long enough to see her son."

The Pentagon claimed that Mingazov was captured in a March 2002 security forces raid on a suspected terrorist safehouse belonging to an al Qaeda rival named Zayn Abdeen al Hussein, known as Abu Zubaydah. It also said he had earlier undergone training at a terror training camp, which he had denied.

For his part, the Russian told a U.S. military panel in 2006 that he was captured in a guest house for refugees, not Abu Zubaydah's, who he subsequently learned that security forces captured him elsewhere. He added that he didn't know Abu Zubaydah and nor had he seen Osama bin Laden.

Spaulding was seeking talks with the Obama administration to arrange for his client's release to a country other than his homeland because of the stigma of nearly a decade in U.S. detention. Seven other Russians, who were released from Guantánamo in 2004, were tortured, beaten, harassed and sent into hiding, according a Human Rights Watch study.

Liberal activists in Massachusetts showcased the tale of Mingazov and an Algerian man named Ahmed Belbacha in a campaign last year that condemned the detention policies of the Bush administration. On Nov. 4, Amherst's 240-member Town Meeting voted to offer asylum to two GuantÍnamo captives cleared of wrongdoing who cannot go home.

Congress has since blocked any resettlement of cleared Guantánamo captives onto U.S. soil. The Obama administration has turned to Europe mostly to take in released captives.

In western Massachusetts, activist Nancy Talanian of a grass-roots group, "No More Guantánamos," said Pioneer Valley residents were still eager to take in Mingazov for resettlement.

"Guantánamo detainees who cannot safely return home are really no different than other refugees whom western Massachusetts communities have welcomed in the past," she said. If the Obama administration can tell Europe that former detainees "would not pose any danger," she said, "that should be sufficient assurance that we can be safe with some of them living here."

Mingazov, he said, speaks some English and some Arabic aside from his Russian.

Said Spaulding: "He's very healthy. He's got a good sense of humor. He's a healthy, I would say, balanced individual. Folks in Amherst are ready to go but I don't think that's going to happen."



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