The US State Department has thanked the Maldivian government for agreeing to accept detainees from Guantánamo Bay, but opposition parties are still saying they were not informed of the government’s decision.
Spokesman for the US State Department, Philip Crowley, said yesterday: “The United States welcomes the Government of Maldives reaffirmation that it intends to accept detainees from Guantánamo Bay. The United States is grateful to all countries that have accepted detainees [and] for their willingness to support US efforts to close the Guantánamo Bay detention facility.”
Jeffery Anderson at the US Embassy to the Maldives in Colombo said they embassy could provide no further information on the detainees being transferred to the Maldives.
President Mohamed Nasheed said yesterday: “It was very clear back then that people were arrested [and put] in Guantánamo without proper checks. People were just taken from all over and incarcerated. Today, when the jail is being dismantled, and the Maldives is among the few 100 percent Muslim countries in the world, if we can’t care about them, where is the example we are showing to the international community and other people of the book [Jews and Christians]?”
Press Secretary for the President’s Office, Mohamed Zuhair, said he believed the detainee being transferred was a Palestinian man from the West Bank.
“According to the US Department of State, he is not capable of planning or executing a crime,” Zuhair noted.
He said the man belongs to the Tabligh sect of Islam, and added, “that is not criminal behaviour.”
Zuhair said the man was chosen because he was “the least controversial” prisoner and had not been charged with a crime. “This man will have complete records with him,” he said, adding all consultations about his past were held by the US government.
“He did not have a fair trail,” Zuhair noted. “Actually, he did not have a trial.”
He said the Maldives had chosen to take a former prisoner of the detention centre because the Maldives is “one of many interested in closing Guantánamo Bay and the repatriation of the remaining prisoners.”
Zuhair said bringing a Guantánamo detainee to the Maldives would give the country “prestige” and “honour.”
“The [Maldivian] population is devoutly Muslim and this will translate to more prestige and honour and better sentiment towards the Maldives,” he said. “It will have a positive effect all the way.”
State Minister of Foreign Affairs, Ahmed Naseem, said it was still premature to talk about how many detainees will be sent from the controversial prison, who they are or when they will be brought to the Maldives.
“It has not come to that stage yet,” he said, “but we have certain ideas of who [will be brought].”
He added that the prisoners still have to be interviewed and many legalities are still being examined.
“We also need to know why these people were arrested,” Naseem noted, emphasising that “we are not bringing any terrorists to the Maldives.”
“Not everyone who was arrested is a terrorist or a criminal,” he said, referring to the Maldivian national Ibrahim Fauzee, who was taken to Guantánamo in 2002 and brought back to the Maldives in 2005.
“His apartment happened to be formerly occupied by Palestinian terrorists and he was taken by police,” Naseem said, noting that Fauzee was later released with no charges.
Fauzee, who is president of the Maldivian religious NGO the Islamic Foundation, said he did not wish to comment on the issue.
Naseem noted that “everybody knows” there were many wrongful detentions made by the USA after the 9/11 attacks, “similar to arrests during Gayoom’s regime.”
He said the nationality of the detainees did not matter, since this is “a humanitarian issue.”
“A lot of Muslims have been affected by this,” he said, adding that as long as the resettlement was within the Constitution and laws of the country, there should be no problem in resettling former Guantánamo Bay prisoners.
Naseem said the US State Department had carefully chosen several countries around the world and had asked them to take in prisoners who were cleared of charges in their bid to close down the detention centre.
“They [USA] has confidence in the Maldives, in our human rights record, and know the [detainees] will have their rights [here].”
He noted the US “will have an obligation” to take into consideration the living expenses for any detainees sent to the Maldives.
“But those details still have to be worked out,” he added.
Naseem said this is “purely based on human rights” and the only reason it was becoming such a big issue locally was because the opposition Dhivehi Rayyithunge Party (DRP) had obtained official papers “and are having a field day with this.”
He added that the decision to resettle the detainees been public knowledge since December last year when President Nasheed announced his intention to bring in detainees during his radio address.
The Dhivehi Qaumy Party (DQP) has been especially vocal in its opposition to the resettlement of Guantánamo prisoners.
They wrote in their website: “There is no reason that a small country like the Maldives with limited resources should accept such convicts when a country like America won’t accept them.”
DQP believes the president does not have the Constitutional authority to “transfer convicts” into the country, adding that such an actions would “make expatriates working in the country as well as visiting tourists more unsettled.”
They are planning on filing a case at court and a bill at the next session of Parliament prohibiting the transfer of foreign prisoners to the Maldives.
The party added the government was “not making any effort” to repatriate Maldivians in foreign jails.
DRP MP Ahmed Nihan said he thought the move would be dangerous to the country, claiming, “I do not believe this will make any betterment to the country. It is putting our country in danger.”
He said DRP MP Ali Waheed had sent a letter to the Majlis’ National Security Committee on the issue, but the sitting has been postponed. He said it would hopefully take place in the “coming weeks.”
“We are asking to get more details. No one knows what the government is trying to do,” Nihan said. “We’re totally in a dark place.”
He said his party had an issue with the lack of transparency, noting that they knew nothing about it until “some papers between the President’s Office and some ministries were leaked.”
“The government has already made a binding agreement. Members of the Majlis hope to know about serious matters like this.”
He said resettling Guantánamo convicts in the country is “a serious issue” and could have “serious consequences. If anything happens in the wrong direction, we’re in a serious situation,” he said, referring to the geographic location of the Maldives and the 2008 Mumbai attacks.
“If the government is genuine about this,” he said, “we would already have had negotiations between the government and the Majlis.”
Nihan added that President Nasheed’s remarks to the media yesterday, particularly his dismissal of the opposition’s outcry, was “total rudeness. It was like a comment from George Bush.”
He said he could not speak for his entire party, but said that regardless of whether the government was careful about who they were bringing into the country, “I cannot agree on this.”
History of Guantánamo
Land in Cuba’s Guantánamo Bay in the Oriente Province, the south-east of the island, was rented out by the United States in 1903 to set up a naval base. It was originally used for monitoring illegal migrants trying to enter the United States through Florida and other ports in the Caribbean.
Starting in 2002, prisoners accused of terrorism were sent to a detention centre in the base, after George W. Bush’s administration began capturing “enemy combatants” from around the world following the September 11 2001 attacks.
From its inception the detention centre has been surrounded by accusations of torture and of withholding the rights of prisoners under the Geneva Convention, which would guarantee them a fair trial.
Since 2002, many detainees have been released without charge after years of imprisonment, like Britain’s “Tipton Three,” who were repatriated to England in 2004 after two years of wrongful imprisonment.
In 2009 the White House reported that since 2002, approximately 800 individuals were imprisoned as ‘enemy combatants’ and detained at Guantánamo. Around 500 of those prisoners were either transferred or released, whether to their home countries or to a third country.
Additionally, they note “the Department of Defense has determined that a number of the individuals currently detained at Guantánamo are eligible for such transfer or release.”
In January 2009, US President Barack Obama ordered the closing of the Guantánamo detention centre within a year, and assigned a special task force to “consider policy options for apprehension, detention, trial, transfer or release of detainees.” He also banned the use of “harsh interrogations”.
The order states that all prisoners not eligible for transfer must be prosecuted, or the state must “select lawful means…for the disposition of such individuals.”
On the transfer of prisoners, the president’s order reads: “[The Special Task Force] will also look at rendition and other policies for transferring individuals to third countries to be sure that our policies and practices comply with all obligations and are sufficient to ensure that individuals do not face torture and cruel treatment if transferred.”
Crowley added yesterday that “since 2009, the United States has transferred 59 detainees to 24 different destinations; 35 of these have been transfers to third countries.”