Ghana: Decision to take in Guantánamo detainees ‘unconstitutional’

Ghana’s Supreme Court has declared “unconstitutional” the decision by former President John Mahama to allow two former Guantánamo Bay detainees entry into the West African country.

The court ruled Thursday that the ex-president needed to get parliamentary approval for the transfer. It said parliament has three months to approve the transfer of the detainees.

Mahmoud Omar Bin Atef and Khalid al Dhuby, in their mid 30s, had been held as enemy combatants but were cleared for release in 2009. The two Yemenis were the first Guantanamo prisoners resettled in sub-Saharan Africa. They were sent there in January 2016.

READ MORE: Ex-Guantánamo detainees thank Ghana for taking them in

Mahama has said the detainees were taken in after a direct request by the United States government and did not pose a security threat. Several religious and civil society groups protested their transfer to Ghana including the Ghana Catholic Bishops Conference, the Christian Council of Ghana and the Ghana Pentecostal and Charismatic Council.

Mahmoud Omar Bin Atef, born in 1979, in a Guantánamo prison photo provided to McClatchy by the anti-secrecy WikiLeaks group. His attorney, George Clarke, said Jan. 6, 2016 that last time he saw Bin Atef he had a close trimmed beard and a “sparkle in his eyes.”

Ghana’s foreign ministry said at the time of their transfer that the two Yemenis would be able to leave after two years.

At the time, the transfer was seen as an example of how far the Obama administration would go in its search for nations to resettle Yemenis whom the United States wouldn’t repatriate to their turbulent homeland. The former British colony of Ghana became the 24th nation to take in Guantánamo captives who couldn’t go home.

On Friday, Ghana’s government sought to reassure the public that the two men remained under supervision in the West African nation. Ghana’s Information Ministry said the government will comply with the Supreme Court ruling and seek approval for the Yemeni men’s continued stay.

The men “have been comporting themselves well since their arrival in Ghana,” the ministry said in a statement.

At least four other former Guantánamo prisoners have been resettled to sub-Saharan Africa: two to Cape Verde and two to Senegal. Three Mauritanians were repatriated.

LISTEN: Carol Rosenberg’s interview on PRI’s The World radio program at the time of the transfer

The Miami Herald’s Carol Rosenberg contributed to this report from Miami