Ghana's GTMO 2 are trojan horses --experts

Two experts on security and political science have expressed fear that Ghana’s decision to accept two Guantanamo Bay detainees could pose a threat to the country’s security.

According to them, the granting of  temporary asylum in the country to Mahmud Umar Muhammad Bin Atef and Khalid Muhammad Salih Al-Dhuby, both from Yemen, could put the country on the radar of extremists.

A security expert, Mr Emmanuel Sowatey, and a Senior Lecturer at the Political Science Department of the University of Education, Winneba, Mr Awaisu I Braimah, were reacting to reports that Ghana would be home to the two extremists from the Cuban island. 

But the United States Embassy in Ghana says due diligence has been done before resettling the prisoners in Ghana.

A press statement issued by the embassy said a Guantanamo Review Task Force (comprising six departments and agencies) that conducted a comprehensive review of the Guantanamo Bay detainees cases and examined a number of factors, including security issues, unanimously approved the transfers of Atef and Al-Dhuby nearly six years ago.

“The United States is grateful to the Government of Ghana for its humanitarian gesture and willingness to support ongoing US efforts to close the Guantanamo Bay detention facility. The US coordinated with the Government of Ghana to ensure these transfers took place consistent with appropriate security and humane treatment measures,” the statement, issued by the embassy’s Press Attaché, Sara Veldhuizen Stealy, said.

 Detainees in Africa
Apart from Ghana, nine other African countries — Somalia, Algeria, Libya, Tunisia, Mauritania, Uganda, Cape Verde, Egypt and Chad — are either hosting the released extremists or planning to do so.
Apart from Ghana and Cape Verde, which is hosting a Syrian detainee, Abd al Nisr Mohammed Khantumani, all the other African countries got back their own citizens. 

Trojan horse
In an interview with the Daily Graphic, Mr  Sowatey described the deal, which has so far been shrouded in secrecy, as a Trojan horse with dire long-term security implications.
“Someone may argue that accepting them here means we are sympathetic to them and, therefore, we will not be attacked.  It is not true.

“In the world of terrorism, it does not work like that.  The Geneva Convention that governs war does not work in the world of terrorism. It is a murky business. We should be as quiet as possible in order not to attract attention.

“What is our short-term and long-term national security interest on the Guantanamo Bay issue?” he asked. 

Guantanamo Bay detainees have long been considered the United State’s most dangerous enemies and the Cuban island has been home to some of the hard-core extremists arrested by the US in its war against terrorism.

However, President Barack Obama, on January 22, 2009, by executive order, triggered actions to ultimately close down the high-risk prison.

According to a Fox News report, bin Atef is an admitted member of the Taliban who fought for Osama bin Laden, while Al-Dhuby trained with Al Qaeda in Afghanistan.

According to the report, the Pentagon had earlier determined that bin Atef was a high risk to the US and to American interests, while Al-Dhuby posed a medium risk.

The two inmates are the first of a group of 17 detainees expected to be transferred out of Guantanamo Bay. Both detainees spent close to 14 years at Guantanamo.

Ghana was in near panic last year when news broke that a graduate of the Kwame Nkrumah University of Science and Technology (KNUST), Nazir Nortei Alema, had joined the notorious hardliners, ISIS.

With that in mind, Mr Sowatey said, “In as much as Ghana is part of various United Nations protocols and conventions and has certain obligations, when your national security is being threatened, your adherence to your national security should supersede your obligation to the international community. The West has demonstrated that time and again.”

As of September 2013, there were about 8,000 refugees in Ghana from 29 countries, including Cote d’Ivoire, The Sudan, Togo, Sierra Leone and Iraq, according to Ghana Refuge Board figures.

“Once you have brought Guantanamo people here, you have attracted the international media to Ghana for the wrong reasons. Once this receives attention from the international media, you don’t know who it will attract.

“Your interest is your people...their psychological and physical welfare. If your people are not comfortable, you have to respond to that. America has always said it has permanent interests and not permanent friends,” he added in response to the frenzy the reports had generated.

Flirting with danger? 
 
The worry among many Ghanaians is whether these former detainees will return to acts of  terrorism or transit to quiet, private lives away from acts that resulted in their capture.

According to a report issued by the United States Director of National Intelligence in September 2013, 100 out of the 603 prisoners released from Guantanamo Bay between 2002 and July 2013 were "confirmed" to have returned "to terrorist activities".

The same report, in assessing the likelihood of those detainees communicating with terrorist organisations, confirmed that fear among the public.

“Former GTMO detainees routinely communicate with each other, families and other former detainees and previous associates who are members of terrorist organisations. The reasons for communication span from the mundane (reminiscing about shared experiences) to the nefarious (planning terrorist organisations).

“We assess that some GTMO detainees transferred in the future also will communicate with other former GTMO detainees and persons in terrorist organisation,” it said.

It, however, said it did not consider mere communication with individuals or organisations — including other former GTMO detainees — an indicator of re-engagement. Rather, the motives, intentions and purpose of each communication are taken into account when assessing whether the individual had re-engaged.

In a country whose borders are porous and the security services complain about lack of logistics, Mr Sowatey had a concern.

“Do we have the capacity to monitor all their activities and all the networks they will create? We may say they are just two people, but it is not about the number. Let’s look at their symbolic nature and the attraction. Let’s look at people being uncomfortable. The paramount interest is to Ghanaians, even if it is just the urban elite or only people who listen to radio,” he stated.

Ghana as a target?
For his part, Mr Braimah said Ghana could be a target of terrorists in future, having decided to receive Yemeni Guantanamo convicts in the country. 

“The country may accept these convicts owing to the  economic gains, but my concern is the threat to our security from terrorists, especially those against the US,” he explained.

In recent times, he said, Ghana had been alleged to be recruiting members for ISIS, adding that such publicity was dangerous to the country’s security as a developing nation.

The US, he said, was not a member of the International Criminal Court and Ghana, as a signatory of such an institution, must be tactful in dealing with the US.

US Embassy responds
But responding to the concerns, the US Embassy in Ghana said “the decision to transfer a detainee is made only after detailed, specific conversations with the receiving country about the potential threat a detainee may pose after transfer and the measures the receiving country will take in order to sufficiently mitigate that threat, and to ensure humane treatment”.

“While our policy preference is to repatriate detainees to their home countries where we can do so consistent with our national security and humane treatment policies, under certain circumstances the most viable transfer option is resettlement in a third country.

“Of the 133 detainees who have been transferred from Guantanamo during this administration, 82 have been resettled in third countries.

“We remain very appreciative of the assistance of our friends and allies who have stepped up to accept detainees for resettlement. We appreciate this generous humanitarian action by our partner, the Republic of Ghana,” it added.

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