The Cable

From Gitmo with love: How a detainee release happens

Three former prisoners who had been held at the U.S. Naval Base at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba, arrived in Tbilisi, Georgia, yesterday to begin their new lives. The Cable takes you behind the scenes to explain how the deal got done and what these guys have to look forward to, besides their long-awaited freedom. The process ...

Three former prisoners who had been held at the U.S. Naval Base at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba, arrived in Tbilisi, Georgia, yesterday to begin their new lives. The Cable takes you behind the scenes to explain how the deal got done and what these guys have to look forward to, besides their long-awaited freedom.

The process of organizing their emigration started last fall, when Amb. Dan Fried, the special envoy tasked with resettling Guantánamo prisoners, visited Georgia. He asked Georgian officials to consider taking Guantánamo prisoners and set up a visit for the Georgians to visit the facility in Cuba, which they did in December.

The Georgians met with several detainees at the base, reviewed their medical and psychological records, and spoke with them about what their life in Georgia would be like. In the end, there were several offers extended to prisoners who had been cleared for release, and three accepted.

After that, the Georgians started making preparations. They set up houses for their new guests, fully furnished, and recruited interpreters to help them get acclimated to their new surroundings and to teach them the Georgian language.

When the three arrived yesterday on a U.S. government plane, their new lives had all but been set up for them. U.S. officials handed them over to the Georgian police, who took them to the separate houses already prepared for them.

"All of their needs will be met," said Shota Utiashvili, the head of the Georgian Interior Ministry’s analytics department, which was heavily involved in the arrangements. "Hopefully after they learn a little bit of Georgian they will be able to find jobs."

It’s worth noting that the American side never declared the former prisoners as innocent, nor have they been convicted of any crime despite being imprisoned for years. Their official status is "No Longer Enemy Combatant" and U.S. officials have determined they do not pose a "continuing" security threat.

Based on that determination, they will have full freedom of movement in Georgia, able to go anywhere at any time, so long as they stay within the country’s borders. Their families can come to Georgia to visit them, but they can’t go back to their home countries.

"They will have freedom inside the country but not abroad," Utiashvili said, adding that there would be continued interactions with Georgian officials, but not 24-hour monitoring. "We will make sure they are safe on the one hand and make sure that they don’t become a security threat at the same time," he said.

When asked why Georgia would take the risk of housing potentially dangerous and likely embittered former prisoners, Deputy Foreign Minister Giga Bokeria said, "We have strategic partnership with the United States and this is one part of that cooperation."

The United States didn’t give Georgia anything in exchange for accepting the prisoners and the Georgians didn’t ask for anything, according to Bokeria, who emphasized that Georgia doesn’t see its new residents as a security risk but will be keeping an eye on them nonetheless.

"We consider this the normal behavior of an ally," he said.

The Miami Herald reported that two of the three men were Libyans and one was Abdel Hamid al Ghazzawi, 47, who ran a small shop in Jalalabad, Afghanistan, before he was handed over to U.S. forces in 2001.

Georgia now joins Switzerland, Spain, Bermuda, and Palau as countries that have accepted released detainees. There are now 185 prisoners left at the base in Cuba, still awaiting their fate.

 Twitter: @joshrogin

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