Political self-interest and false assumptions are behind some MPs’ opposition to the government’s plans to resettle a Guantanamo Bay detainee in the Maldives, Foreign Minister Dr Ahmed Shaheed has said.
Opposition to the plan, Dr Shaheed said, amounts to “a couple of MPs and their sponsored press” who “shot first and asked questions later”. Their objections to the plan, he said, do not reflect “core Maldivian values and are based on false assumptions.”
It is assumed, he said, that “everybody at Guantanamo is a lethal terrorist” and that “this government is going to break laws to accede to the United States’ request”.
Both assumptions are false, he said, and are backed by a third – again false – premise that “whatever Shaheed does, must be attacked”.
“Last year I was pilloried because I spoke to the Israelis… Last year the problem was that I did not care about Palestinians. This year the problem is that I care too much about the Palestinians,” Dr Shaheed said.
“When you remove this politicking and the madness from the surface”, he said, “you are left with a lot of people who think it is good to help people find a better life”. Helping Muslims, helping Palestinians, Dr Shaheed said, are values that Maldivians have long believed in.
Dr Shaheed was speaking to Minivan on the government’s plan to resettle a Guantanamo Bay detainee in the Maldives. The detainee is a Palestinian national who has remained in United States custody at Guantanamo Bay for the last eight years.
The detainee was taken into United States custody in Karachi, Pakistan, and transferred to the prison in Guantanamo Bay in 2002. “He was a non-political Muslim preacher, a Tablighi”, Dr Shaeed said.
“By all accounts, and from what I have seen, he is an innocent person,” Dr Shaheed said. No criminal charges were ever brought against him, nor was he tried at any of the US military tribunals that determined the “enemy combatant” status of detainees.
The Bush administration refused to grant ‘Prisoner of War’ status to any of the detainees held in United States custody as part of the War on Terror, denying them all the rights guaranteed by the Third Geneva Convention.
The decision allowed the United States government to detain prisoners indefinitely without charge and without legal representation. Despite the Obama administration’s decision to close Guantanamo Bay in 2008, close to 200 detainees still remain at the facility.
No money exchanged hands
The Maldivian government’s decision to assist the current United States administration in closing Guantanamo Bay by resettling one of the detainees, Dr Shaeed said, was not going to break any laws of the country, nor was it a decision made on a quid pro quo basis.
“The United States has not come with a bag full of money and said: ‘here’s your reward for doing this’, but because we work with the US on this and other issues, they will try to help us where we need help,” Dr Shaheed said.
He denied that the Maldives had been complicit in the Bush administration’s controversial practice of extraordinary renditions in which suspected terrorists were transported from one country to another without due process.
The Maldives, however, had acquiesced to the United States request to allow its planes to refuel at her airports during its military invasion of Afghanistan that began in October 2001.
Although the permission was granted, Dr Shaheed said, it was not utilised. It was more a pragmatic move which allowed the United States to add the Maldives to the list of countries that supported its War on Terror.
“It was also important for them to be able to say that Muslim countries were backing them also, because they were not attacking Islam, they were attacking Al-Qaeda.”
Proceeding with caution
Dr Shaeed said that until both the Maldivian parliament and the United States Congress were satisfied that the detainee did not pose a threat to the national security of either country, he would not be brought to the Maldives.
The invitation to resettle in the Maldives has been extended to the detainee on the basis that he agrees to abide by certain conditions, Dr Shaheed said. And the agreement with the United States to resettle him in the Maldives is dependent on the fulfilment of three conditions.
“We have to first satisfy ourselves that the person poses no threat to the Maldives; that our laws are compatible with the resettlement; and that the United States will meet its costs. That is the basis from which we started the negotiations, and that is what we are still maintaining,” Dr Shaheed said.
He denied any possibility that the detainee might establish links with the increasingly radical elements of Maldivian society. “There is no such danger”, he said.
Nor was there any evidence to suggest that detainees who are resettled in third countries associate with, or contribute to radicalisation of host societies, he said.
A “Mullah environment”
Dr Shaheed agreed that the Maldives lacks, and needs, an integrated and coherent anti-radicalisation policy that addresses the issue as a whole.
“It is too fragmented to say that there are nine in Pakistan doing Jihad, four in a park exploding a bomb, five in the park calling for the murder of a High Commissioner in another country – these are all fragmented – we need to see where we are in a more coherent manner,” Dr Shaheed said.
He said the Maldives needs to take stock of where it currently is, and to gauge how far the education system has become “atrophied into an instrument of radicalism”.
What is needed is to assess the extent to which democracy has “opened the floodgates of radical ideas”, he said, and how far the society itself has become a handmaiden of radicalism.
The ‘operating environment’ in the Maldives, he said, is “a Mullah environment”. Any development plans or any plans for change, unlike in other developing countries such as those in Latin America for example, he said, have to take “the Mullah environment into account”.
Grand narratives that currently dominate the Maldivian society, such as that of treating women as second class citizens, Dr Shaheed said, need to be addressed and changed.
A policy document that targets these problems in a coherent manner is needed, without which “we have not yet fathomed the scale of the problem”, he said.
“What we do know is, every day it is increasing”, Dr Shaheed said. “I believe women in this country are in great danger”.