The difficult transfers from Guantánamo
by Pablo Pardo
Translated by Center for Islamic Pluralism
The U.S. is discovering that subcontracting the closing of Guantánamo is not easy. And not only because of the dangerous nature of some of the prisoners in that facility. Many other factors are present. For example, nobody wants to put their good diplomatic and commercial relations with any country in danger, by receiving prisoners possessing that country's nationality. This is what allowed the Uighurs (Turkic Muslims from Chinese territory) to find a place in Bermuda; no major country wants to risk a confrontation with Beijing. China demands extradition of the Uighurs, who it accuses of separatism, and according to the U.S., the Chinese would be capable of submitting them to a treatment that would make them yearn for Guantánamo.
In addition, there remains the problem of controlling those still detained. And the danger that they will file legal cases against the U.S. authorities and those of countries which intend to receive former Guantánamo prisoners – among them, possibly Spain – challenging their arrests, which they may claim were illegal, their transportation to the U.S., which in many cases took place because of payment to local officials in their original countries, their retention in Guantánamo, which is literally a territory without legal status, and even the fact of their having been deported without formal extradition.
For these reasons, the U.S. Justice Department is extremely reluctant at present to say who will go where from Guantánamo. "We are continuing discussions with many foreign partners," a representative of that department told this newspaper.
Spain will, in principle, accept five: four Tunisians and a Yemeni. But the Spanish Interior Ministry under Alfredo Pérez Rubalcaba wants to be sure that they are unthreatening before greenlighting the handover. If he is not convinced, he will ask the U.S. to propose other detainees.
In principle, the prisoner from Yemen appears to present little danger. Nevertheless, the greater part of the detainees from that country will be sent to jails in Saudi Arabia, so that the presence of a Yemeni from Guantánamo in Europe will be an unusual event.
The case of the four Tunisians is more problematic, because they awaken much more suspicion in the Spanish authorities. The Spanish government, nevertheless, prefers Tunisians to Algerians or Moroccans, coming from countries with which Spain has important diplomatic and commercial links, and toward which it wishes to avoid motives for tension.
Before being jailed, these five men were soldiers of Al-Qaida. That is, they had travelled from their homelands to Afghanistan and Pakistan, where they provided auxiliary services to the terrorist network and fought against the anti-Taliban opposition. In other words: they were not part of the hard nucleus of the galaxy of groups and individuals that comprise Al-Qaida.
"If they are low-level members of Al-Qaida it appears very probable that, after years in Guantánamo, they remain at a very low level, because they will have lost their contacts with the radical universe and have lived isolated from the rest of the world. They have received no training. They do not know what has happened in the world. I would not be surprised if they knew nothing about the March 11, 2004 bombings in Madrid. If in dealing with Al-Qaida it is difficult to establish which are the top leaders, with these people it is even harder," according to Parag Khanna, author of the book The Second World and former advisor of the U.S. Army Special Forces in Afghanistan.
But this does not mean they are not dangerous. "It is one thing to be a low-level member and another not to be a hardliner within the organization," Khanna emphasizes.
Other analysts agree. "If someone takes the trouble to go from Tunisia to Afghanistan to fight in a civil war in the latter country, it is because the person is a radical Islamist. Because nothing that happened during the 90s in Afghanistan had effects in Tunisia," explains Stephen Schwartz, executive director of the Center for Islamic Pluralism. It is thus that everything leads one to think that Spain, if it finally accepts the prisoners from Guantánamo, will have to watch them closely. There has yet been no decision which legal option will be applied to accept and oversee them – and possibilities include the Antiterrorism Law and the Law on Foreigners – but it appears clear that they will be subjected to constant police supervision. With all these conditions, at seems the passage of the jihadists from Guantánamo to Spain will be a complicated operation.
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