U.S. sends 2 Guantánamo detainees to new lives in Ghana

The Pentagon on Wednesday delivered two long-cleared Yemeni detainees to resettlement in the West African nation of Ghana, 5,100 miles from Guantánamo, in the continuing Obama administration bid to empty the prison camps in southeast Cuba.

The first transfers to sub-Saharan Africa reduced the detainee population at the remote base to 105, of whom 46 are approved for transfer. Fifteen more releases are expected before the month is over — starting with Kuwait fetching its last national in the detention center on Friday — in a series of far-flung transfers and repatriations that have already stirred dissent in the GOP presidential race.

The Pentagon identified the released captives as Saudi-born Yemenis Khalid al Dhuby, 34, and Mahmoud Omar Bin Atef, 36.

The transfers demonstrate a determined Obama administration effort to find nations to resettle Yemenis who can’t go home.

Dhuby had been approved for release from Guantánamo since 2006 and Bin Atef since late 2009, provided a stable country could be found to receive them.

Neither of the men ever went before a review panel, nor were they charged with a crime or had their case reviewed by a civilian court. So there are no transcripts reflecting their views. A leaked 2007 prison profile, however, described Bin Atef as threatening to “research guard force personnel’s names and faces on the Internet and sneak into their homes to cut their throats like sheep” after his release.

Attorney George Clarke, who met with Bin Atef in recent months, said neither the description nor the photo in the 2007 profile resemble his client.

“It’s not the guy I know. It’s not the guy the people who cleared him know. Why would they clear somebody who they actually know would do that?” said Clarke, describing Bin Atef as “a big, friendly, funny guy” with good English who went to Afghanistan before the Sept. 11 attacks “out of a sense of adventure.”

46 of Guantánamo’s remaining 105 captives are now cleared for release; 10 are in court proceedings

The transfers demonstrate a determined Obama administration effort to find nations to resettle Yemenis whom the United States won’t repatriate to their turbulent homeland. Ghana, a former British colony, became the 24th nation to take in Guantánamo captives who couldn’t go home, and the first since the United Arab Emirates received five Nov. 14.

It was not immediately known what arrangements were made for the men by the mostly Christian country roughly the size of Oregon with an 18 percent Muslim minority.

Ghana’s Foreign Ministry said in a statement Wednesday that the two men “have been cleared of any involvement in terrorist activities” and would be accepted “for a period of two years, after which they may leave the country.” It added that “their activities would be monitored during their stay in Ghana.”

A Pentagon statement called Ghana’s agreement to take the two men a “humanitarian gesture” that was coordinated between the two governments with “appropriate security and humane treatment measures.” It said Congress was notified in advance, consistent with the law.

The United States is grateful to the Government of Ghana for its humanitarian gesture.

Pentagon statement

Dhuby got to Guantánamo in May 2002 as a suspected veteran of the battle of Tora Bora that resisted the U.S. invasion of Afghanistan. Afghan troops turned him over to U.S. forces on Dec. 18, 2001, according to his leaked profile. He apparently had no lawyer, unlike Bin Atef, and nobody to speak for him on his release.

He had an older brother at Guantánamo, according to leaked detention center records, who was sent to Georgia about two years ago.

Bin Atef’s 2007 prison profile said he was born and raised in Saudi Arabia, where he was recruited to go to Afghanistan and “participate in jihadist combat.”

Northern Alliance forces captured him in late 2001 and held him at a prison fortress near Mazar-i-Sharif where captives staged an uprising in which CIA agent Johnny Spann was killed. Clarke called it a traumatic time for his client, who was shot in the ankle and nearly drowned in the basement of the Qala-i-Jangi prison as U.S. forces assaulted the compound to end the uprising.

“He’s been through hell,” said Clarke, adding that he imagines most captives held for 14 years “say something nasty about the people who are detaining him.”

U.S. troops took custody of him around Jan. 1, 2002, according to his profile, and he was brought to Guantánamo in the earliest days of Camp X-Ray.

By late 2007, he was profiled as a dangerous troublemaker, someone the guard force feared, who tried to organize a 2007 hunger strike and “made multiple threats to kill guard force personnel.” Clarke said he most recently was held at Camp 6, a communal prison, meaning he was cooperating with his captors.

Clarke added that Bin Atef is “into music and culture,” is “not some old stoic type of jihadist at all.” His goal for life after Guantánamo is “to live peacefully, get up when he wants to get up, eat when he wants to eat, wear the clothes he wants to wear” and put his detention behind him.

Editor’s note: An earlier version of this story incorrectly reported the distance between Guantánamo and Ghana as about 8,000 miles. Actually, it’s about 5,100 miles, or about 8,000 kilometers.

Carol Rosenberg: 305-376-3179, @carolrosenberg

Government statements

    Ghana Ministry of Foreign Affairs: At the request of the U.S. Government, we have also agreed to accept two detainees of Yemeni origin who were detained in Guantánamo but have been cleared of any involvement in terrorist activities, and are being released. They are unable to return to Yemen at the moment, and we have indicated our willingness to accept them for a period of two years, after which they may leave the country.

    In all instances, the persons who are being allowed into the country would be subjected to security clearance, and their activities would be monitored during their stay in Ghana.

    Ghana recognises, as member of the International Community, we have the responsibility to assist in the international crisis situation having regard to our own resources and capacity to assist, and it is in this regard that Government has decided to take this action.

    We wish to assure the public that, in doing so, we are cognisant of the need to protect the safety and security of our own citizens, and are taking all the necessary steps to ensure that is done.

    U.S. Department of Defense: In accordance with statutory requirements, the secretary of defense informed Congress of the United States’ intent to transfer these individuals and of his determination that these transfers meet the statutory standard.

    The United States is grateful to the Government of Ghana for its humanitarian gesture and willingness to support ongoing U.S. efforts to close the Guantánamo Bay detention facility. The United States coordinated with the Government of Ghana to ensure these transfers took place consistent with appropriate security and humane treatment measures.

    Today, 105 detainees remain at Guantánamo Bay.