DON'T LOSE ACCESS:
Your IP access to ForeignPolicy.com will expire on June 15.
To ensure uninterrupted reading, please contact Rachel Mines, sales director, at firstname.lastname@example.org.
President of Ghana: Car Accidents Are More Dangerous Than Gitmo Detainees
On Tuesday, Ghana defended its choice to accept detainees from Guantánamo who were never charged with crimes.
When the Ghanaian government announced last week that Accra would accept two Yemenis released from the detention center at Guantánamo Bay, Christian leaders in the West African country quickly made it clear the two men would not be welcome there.
On Monday, the Ghana Pentecostal and Charismatic Council — an influential group of religious leaders — reportedly went so far as to say they have reason to believe that Mahmoud Omar Muhammad bin Atef and Khalid Mohammed Salih al-Dhuby “have al Qaeda ties and put all of us at risk.”
But Ghanaian President John Mahama has a simple message for them: You’re wrong.
“Any Ghanaian is more in danger of dying from a road accident than from these Guantanamo detainees,” Mahama said at a press conference Tuesday. “They just want to pick up the pieces of their lives and live normally. We don’t have anything to fear.”
The two men were held for more than a decade without charges in the secretive American prison in Cuba, which President Barack Obama hopes to close before he leaves office in 2017. Both were arrested in Afghanistan in 2001 and were accused of being tied to militant groups, which they both denied.
Accra agreed to accept them in a deal with the United States that the Pentagon called a “humanitarian gesture.”
Ghana’s central government didn’t come under scrutiny just from religious leaders. The opposition New Patriotic Party, which faces off against Mahama’s National Democratic Congress in a presidential election in November, said the president made the decision to accept the two men without enough consultation. “Why is [the] government straining to paint a picture of the two detainees as harmless, misunderstood, and wrongly detained persons?” the party asked in a statement this week.
Ghana has largely managed to stay out of trouble in its increasingly volatile neighborhood, with sporadic unrest next door in Burkina Faso and the threat of Islamist insurgencies in nearby Mali and Nigeria. But national security will be at the forefront of the 2016 presidential campaign there, and portraying Mahama as a candidate willing to take risks on Ghana’s prolonged peace could derail his chances for winning. Still, Mahama stood by his decision Tuesday, calling the Guantánamo center “a blot on the human rights record of the world.”
And the two freed Yemeni men told Ghana’s public radio station Uniiq FM that they are not criminals and look forward to living peacefully in Ghana. “We have suffered, but we are not looking for revenge,” Atef said.
Dozens of other countries, including African nations Uganda and Cape Verde, have also accepted released detainees. But Atef said he is particularly excited to move to Ghana because he’s a big fan of its national soccer team.
“When Ghana beat America [in 2010], we were very happy,” he said. “We made some celebrations. We also told the guards that we’ve won.”
Photo credit: Alex Wong/Getty Images