March 07, 2009
A "safehouse" here, it seems...
Would you want these Guantanamo suspects living next door?
By: Steven Edwards
Posted: February 15, 2009
The latest way to seek an immigration pass into Canada appears to go like this: Act suspiciously like a terrorist or even become one; spend a few years at the U.S. naval base in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba; get your name on a refugee-status claim form for review by Canadian immigration officials based in Jamaica.
Canadian church groups and others have filed to "sponsor" five Guantanamo Bay detainees for immigration to Canada as refugees.
Three Uyghur separatists of China are among the group. The U.S. has formally cleared them of having terrorism intentions - against the West, at least. An Algerian and a Syrian - the latter the Canadian sponsors made public just this week - are the others. Interpretations of their backgrounds vary according to who is making them.
What should the average Canadian make of this?
Generally, the anti-Guantanamo crowd has argued many - if not a majority - of those who’ve passed through or remain at the detention camps fell into U.S. custody because they were in the "wrong place at the wrong time."
One such case of "mistaken identity" was that of Ugandan-born Jamal "Tony" Kiyemba. He spent his teen years in London before becoming a pharmacy student at a university in Leicester. He decided in the aftermath of the September 11, 2001 attacks that Pakistan would be a good place to visit to "study Arabic and the Koran." Following his arrival, his "vacation" took him to the Afghan-Pakistan border, where Pakistani forces nabbed him. In exchange for a "bounty" the Americans were paying for terror suspects, the Pakistanis gave him up to U.S. forces, who eventually transferred him to Guantanamo.
What terrible bad luck when you’re only trying to get a bit of R and R – with a view of Tora Bora.
The U.S. released Kiyemba in 2006 without ever having charged him with anything. To many on the left, that’s proof of his total innocence. Yet Britain refused to take him back because of security concerns, and it's believed he is now kicking his heels back in Uganda.
Oh how Britain was criticized in a string of media reports in which Kiyemba proclaimed his benign intentions regarding his far eastern excursion. After all, what’s odd about quitting a university campus in the British Midlands to learn Arabic and study the Koran in Urdu-speaking Pakistan - as war raged in the region?
Cynics might wonder why he couldn’t find a Koran-study class a bit closer to home - like on one of the numerous British Midlands street corners with a mosque. And as for a claim he made that Pakistan was a "very cheap" place to study - how can you get cheaper than welfare-infused Britain, where anyone who’s determined to remain bone idle can live off the state all their life?
One of the advantages the left has when pushing cases like those of the would-be Canadian-bound detainees is that public knowledge of the infamous side of Guantanamo’s reputation is far more widespread than that of its utility as a tool to hold terror suspects.
Few would now deny the Bush administration committed excesses by Western standards in search for intelligence in 9/11’s aftermath - especially in the early days when the fear of follow-up attacks was acute.
But the reality is that, since Guantanamo opened in 2002, the United States has released more than two-thirds of the 779 people it has detained there.
So there has been a massive thinning.
Of the 242 who remain, about 60 are slated for release, or transfer under some sort of continued supervision deal with a receiving country.
Matthew Waxman is among scholars of Guantanamo’s human flows who concludes the number of mistaken-identity cases still there is "likely to be quite small."
In other words, most of those who remain may not be your ideal choice of neighbour.
"There are a number of detainees [remaining] who have been approved for release because they were found not to qualify technically as enemy combatants... but that’s not to say they [didn’t receive] training or [haven’t] participated in al Qaeda-related activities," Waxman, author of Closing Guantanamo Is Way Harder Than You Think, which recently posted at ForeignPolicy.com, said during a Council on Foreign Relations briefing last week.
"So that brings you to the second category of individuals who are deemed not so dangerous that the United States feels the need to continue to detain them, but continue to pose some residual risk."
The three Canadian-sponsored Uyghurs are among 17 held at Guantanamo who appear to be an exception. Yet the United States has been unsuccessful with requests to more than 100 countries to take them, U.S. Navy Cmdr. J. D. Gordon, a Pentagon spokesman, told me.
Washington has been unable to return them to China because that country considers them terrorists and is likely to subject them to torture or other abuse.
So shouldn’t the three Uyghurs, at least, enter Canada?
I reported last week that Immigration Minister Jason Kenney has "no plans" to issue special fast-track entrance permits to the trio.
This would seem folly because taking the apparently harmless Uyghurs is surely an ideal way to display a willingness to cooperate with President Barack Obama - as he seeks to fulfill a pledge to close the detention camps within a year - and not take on a significant security risk.
Yet Canada must also be concerned about any "thickening" of controls at the border with the United States, over which almost 80% of all Canadian exports pass.
While the Obama administration may express appreciation to Canada for helping him out with the Uyghurs, certain folks in Congress - or certain guests on the likes of Fox television news - may misinterpret such a gesture.
That is to say, Prime Minister Stephen Harper doesn’t want to give any reason for anyone to allege that Canada is soft on security.
It’s not an idle consideration: after 9/11 the misperception persisted for the longest time that the terrorists had entered the United States through Canada.
Canada’s then ambassador to the UN, Paul Heinbecker, even wined and dined (well, lunched, actually) a number of key U.S. media representatives in a bid to set the record straight.
In August 2005, Frank McKenna, then Canadian ambassador to the United States, wrote to Fox TV hosts Sean Hannity and Alan Colmes to stress Canada’s anti-terrorism efforts after then U.S. Representative J.D. Hayworth Jr. of Arizona stated on their show that "Canadians now basically let anyone into their country."
There’s an additional concern within the Conservative government that letting in even the Uyghurs could be the thin edge of the sword.
"We’re worried that those backing entry to Canada for the Uyghurs would try to use any success in that endeavour to press for entry of detainees Canada considers far more dangerous, such as those with a history of ties to the al Qaeda network," one government official told me.
With Kenney having ruled out their entry on a "political" pass, the three Uyghurs must wait for a decision by Canada’s immigration bureaucrats in Jamaica - the nearest office to Guantanamo - who are assessing their claims in light of Canadian immigration law for refugees.
While the government has the power to override the system to rule in favour of admittance, it can’t negatively influence the claim.
Likewise for the two other Guantanamo detainees backed by the Canadian sponsoring groups. Both Djamel Ameziane, an Algerian who lived in Montreal from 1995 to 2000, and Maasoum Abdah Mouhammad, a Syrian Kurd, have been detained at Guantanamo since 2002.
Canada refused Ameziane’s application for refugee status in 2000, leading him to travel to Afghanistan as "one of the few countries he could enter without a visa," says a profile of the 41-year-old issued by the Canadian Council for Refugees.
His U.S. Combatant Status Review Board report offers a different account, saying a Tunisian man paid him up to $1,500 and "encouraged him to travel to Afghanistan." Once there, he allegedly stayed at a terrorist "guesthouse."
The refugee council’s profile of Mouhammad says he was living in Kabul, the Afghan capital, at the time of the U.S.-led invasion of that country. He had left Syria for Afghanistan to "look for work and in order to find a wife," says the profile.
He apparently "could not afford the price of a dowry in Syria."
Because "dowry" is the money a woman brings to her new husband, the profile writer was perhaps meaning to say "bride price" or "dower," both of which the groom pays.
In any event, surely the cost of travel to Afghanistan, and setting up home there, would have been more than enough to placate the average Syrian in-laws or their daughter – depending on which payment we’re talking about.
Anyway, despite Mouhammad’s mission in Afghanistan being primarily one of love (according to the refugee council profile), we’re next told he and three fellow Syrians fled to Pakistan as the American-led forces approached.
They skipped, the profile explains, out of "fear of being targeted as foreigners."
Mouhammad’s U.S. Combatant Status Review Board report says he operated a "safe house" where "5-20 personnel armed with AK-47 rifles could be found at any given time."
The U.S. authorities’ accounts for both men are of course handicapped for having been produced by a system human rights groups say employed coercive interrogation techniques.
But are the refugee council’s profiles of the men believable? Think about it. One or both of these fellows could one day be living next door to you.
Steven Edwards is Canwest News Correspondent in New York
Copyright 2009 - The National Post