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Berkeley Does Guantanamo

A Commentary By Debra J. Saunders

On Feb. 15, on the recommendation of its Peace & Justice Commission, the Berkeley (Calif.) City Council is set to vote on a resolution to invite "one or two cleared" Guantanamo Bay detainees to resettle in Berkeley.

Peace & Justice Commissioner Rita Maran told me that the idea was to invite to Berkeley "the kind of people you'd like to have living next door to you or dating your cousin."

While the resolution doesn't name the one or two detainees, her panel presented material that cites two -- Russian-born Ravil Mingazov and Algerian-born Djamel Ameziane -- whom it claims have been "cleared." The resolution also asserts that "cleared" detainees have been determined to "pose no threat to the United States." Where they got that information, I do not know.

Given that the Director of National Intelligence reported in December that 25 percent of released Gitmo detainees have been confirmed or suspected of engaging in terrorism, the commission's assertion would not be reassuring, if it were true.

As Thomas Joscelyn, senior fellow for the Foundation for the Defense of Democracies, observed, "There's an entire mythology" about detainees being exonerated, when they've simply won conditional releases or habeas corpus petitions.

President Obama's own task force looked into Guantanamo's 240 detainees in 2009. While it approved some transfers and conditional releases, Joscelyn noted, "They didn't find any innocent goat herders."

Here's another warning sign: resume makeovers. (Remember Osama bin Laden's "cook"? Ahmed Ghailani was convicted for his role in the 1998 U.S. Embassy bombings in Africa.) The Center for Constitutional Rights lists Ameziane's interests as "reading mystery novels and French fashion magazines for men." He's a chef, the group explains, who worked in Vienna, but was forced to migrate to Montreal and then to -- the culinary capital of? -- Afghanistan.

Unclassified U.S. documents tie Ameziane to a Tunisian recruiter who bankrolled Ameziane's trek to an Afghan guesthouse, where the majority of boarders were Taliban fighters. As Joscelyn wrote in the Daily Standard, to "gain admittance to a Taliban guesthouse ... recruits need a certified Taliban or al Qaeda member to vouch for their commitment" to jihad.

Has Ameziane been cleared by U.S. authorities? Not that I can find.

Even though the Berkeley commission documents say he was "cleared," Maran explained, "We were using those two people as examples only."

The city, she added, would offer to resettle only detainees who were shown to have been cleared.

The commission refers to Russian military vet Mingazov as "a ballet dancer." Facing anti-Muslim discrimination in the military, it writes, Mingazov traveled to a Muslim country where he could practice his faith. After his detention, the commission asserts, Mingazov "was so afraid to return to Russia that he fabricated stories about himself -- that he had attended the al-Farouq training camp and that he had listened to Usama bin Laden" because he wanted to be sent to Gitmo.

Has he been cleared? No.

One federal judge -- Henry H. Kennedy of the District Court for the District of Columbia -- granted Mingazov's habeas corpus appeal on the grounds that authorities did not meet "the standard for lawful detention." This judge bought Mingazov's claim that he lied about attending al-Qaida training camp and being trained in explosives -- and maybe the judge was right. I would have a little more faith in his thinking if the judge had shown more concern that Mingazov spent a night in the Pakistan home of al-Qaida biggie Abu Zubaydah.

A little humility is in order here. Under President George W. Bush, 530 of Gitmo's 779 detainees were released or transferred. Joscelyn noted, "It's not like these guys were sent there and somebody locked the door and threw away the key." Figure that after all these years, the obvious cases already have been handled.

I understand the left's frustration with President Obama. As a candidate, Obama happily referred to Guantanamo Bay as "a recruiting tool for al-Qaida." The left ate it up. Fresh in office, he signed an executive order to close Gitmo within a year.

Yet, as president, Obama came to see that it's a lot easier to talk tough on detainees' rights when you don't have to worry about what they might do and whom they might hurt if released. It may have been fun to bash Bush on Gitmo, but now Obama's in charge -- and even a low-level loser can do a lot of damage.

The Berkeley City Council remains in the easy seat where talk is cheap. Or as UC Berkeley law professor and former Bush White House attorney John Yoo noted, "It's the perfect combination of futility and stupidity. It is futile because what happens to Gitmo detainees is up to the federal government. It is stupid because only Berkeley would want to be a magnet for resettlement of Gitmo detainees."

Pity the poor Peace & Justice crowd. Gone is the cheap thrill of pretending that all of America's problems would go away, if only George W. Bush weren't in the White House. So in a new act of fiction, Bezerkley plays make-believe by pretending that two Gitmo detainees should be dating your cousin.


See Other Political Commentary

See Other Commentary by Debra J. Saunders

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