View Full Version : Canada may welcome detainees

14-06-06, 15:07
Canada may welcome detainees
Cleared of links to terrorism, many Guantanamo inmates fear returning to homelands

Glen McGregor, The Ottawa Citizen
Published: Wednesday, June 14, 2006

Some prisoners at the Guantanamo Bay detention camp who have been formally cleared of links to terrorism may soon be attempting to emigrate to Canada.

Lawyers have been discussing the possibility that Canada would take in at least one of the prisoners the U.S. military no longer considers a threat, however his name wasn't being released for fear of jeopardizing ongoing diplomatic negotiations.

Repatriating former Guantanamo inmates has proved difficult for the U.S. Although they have been classified as "No Longer Enemy Combatants" or NLECs, many do not want to return to their countries of origin after years in detention. They fear the taint of the infamous prison will lead to imprisonment or other reprisals if they are sent home.

The challenge for the U.S. is to find countries with good human rights records willing to welcome detainees it once suspected of terrorism ties. That leaves the detainees in something of a legal limbo -- no longer considered enemy combatants, but unable to leave prison.

Earlier this year, the U.S. managed to place five former Guantanamo inmates in Albania, but only after about 100 other countries declined, according to the Wall Street Journal.

The men were all Chinese nationals but were ethnic Uighurs. They were captured in Pakistan by bounty hunters and transferred to the detention centre in Cuba.

Because the Chinese government considers Uighur separatists to be terrorists, the U.S. decided to seek another destination for them.

Canada was among the countries initially asked to provide asylum, according to a lawyer who represented three of the Uighur men.

"I do believe that Canada was one of the countries that was contacted," said Michael Sternhell.

"I think that for reasons that probably are obvious, the State Department was never willing to share with us what negotiations they were having."

The Pentagon has said there are still more than 120 Guantanamo prisoners who are no longer considered a threat or who can be transferred to custody in their home countries.

Four men have been formally cleared of terror charges by a combat status review tribunal and are being held in Camp Iguana, a smaller detention centre at Guantanamo. They could leave if the U.S. can find a place to send them.

Lawyers for one of the men have been speaking to Canadian authorities about the possibility of taking him in, perhaps as a refugee claimant. The Department of Foreign Affairs would not discuss the case, saying it does not comment on refugee claims that may or may not have been received. The U.S. State Department also declined to comment.

A refugee claimant from Guantanamo would likely first require the Canadian government to give approval through diplomatic channels, as a claim cannot usually be made from outside the country. The government could, however, issue a minister's permit allowing a person to come into the country or make special arrangements for an out-of-country claim from Guantanamo.

But the optics of allowing even innocent former terror suspects to immigrate is politically dicey for the federal government, particularly after the 17 arrests in the alleged Toronto bomb plot.

The prospect of Guantanamo detainees coming to Canada has arisen before and was reportedly discussed by the Liberal cabinet last year, with no final decision made.

Alex Neve, head of Amnesty International Canada, says he has heard of "unspecified discussions of an unknown number of Guantanamo cases" coming to Canada.

"The bottom line is, if prisoners upon release are facing return by the U.S. government to a country where they are going to face human rights violations, that's completely unacceptable," he said.

"It's very important for other countries, including Canada, to step in so they have a safe place to go."

The pressure on the U.S. to find a home for released prisoners will likely mount as international condemnation of Guantanamo builds. The European Parliament this week voted in favour of a motion calling on the U.S. to close the camp, following the suicides of three prisoners.

Among the prisoners who have been cleared and currently are in Camp Iguana are:

- Zakirjan Hassam, a carpenter who is either of Russian or Uzbeki nationality. He was captured in Afghanistan and sent to Guantanamo in May 2002. In 2004, a U.S. military tribunal cleared him of terrorism links.

- Fethi Boucetta, an Algerian doctor who moved to Pakistan to avoid compulsory military service. He was cleared by a tribunal in May 2005.

- Ala Abdel Maqsud Muhammad Salim, an Egyptian national who later moved to Saudi Arabia. He was arrested in Pakistan while working for an aid organization and handed over to the U.S., according to a Washington Post report. His lawyer claimed in court that Mr. Salim was interrogated by Egyptian authorities and threatened that he would be harmed when returned to Egypt.
© The Ottawa Citizen 2006