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Opinions of Monday, 29 February 2016

Columnist: Stephen Attah Owusu

The two GTMO ex-detainees: Ghana sitting on time bomb

I am sure you agree with me that Ghanaians are sitting on a time bomb. Imagine they begin to attack US interests in Ghana or even escape from Ghana, one will immediately push all the blame on President John Dramani Mahama because what would happen to Ghana is that $10 million per escaped detainee would have been paid to the USA.

When I was young we used to redefine Public Works Department (PWD) as Paawrenfo Department. The Akan word "paawrenfo" means accepting to do a job, for example, packing thousand blocks without receiving any remuneration in return but what you get are a heap of insults and embarrassing comments if you happen to break a few blocks in the process of carrying them to pack. It is being speculated that fifteen ex-detainees are on their way to Ghana.

The Guantanamo Bay detention camp is a United States military prison located within Guantanamo Bay Naval Base. It is also referred to as Guantánamo, G-bay or GTMO (pronounced 'gitmo'), which fronts on Guantánamo Bay in Cuba. The detention camp which was established in January 2002 was mainly to detain extraordinarily dangerous people with the sole purpose of interrogating them and consequently prosecuting them for terrorism and war crimes.

Before the centre became a detention camp for terrorists and dangerous political prisoners, it was used as a processing centre for asylum seekers and HIV positive refugees in the 1990s. The base covers an estimated area of 116 sq. kilometres

Ghanaians woke up one fine day on the 6th of January 2016 to behold that two ex-detainees have been "smuggled" in by President Mahama. No prior announcement was made to Ghanaians and Mahama made no consultation with parliament, a clear breach of Article 75 clause 2a, b of Ghana's constitution. As a result, the two ex-detainees, Mahmmoud Omar Mohammed Bin Atef and Khalid Shaykh Mohammad, landed in Ghana to the disapproval of majority of Ghanaians. It is frightening to note that Bin Atef was a fighter in Usama Bin Laden's 55th Arab Brigade.

He was also an active member of the Taliban. Bin Atef participated in hostilities against US and coalition forces. As a detainee and ex-detainee he continued and still continues to show his support for the extremist ideals of Usama Bin Laden. He accepted recruitment from a known Al Qaeda member in Saudi Arabia. He later joined the Al Qaeda forces in Afghanistan to participate in Jihadist combat. When he was arrested by the American forces, he admitted having stayed in Al Qaeda and Taliban guest houses and received military training at Al Faruq training camp belonging to Al Qaeda.

One of the main reasons why Americans did not send him to the USA is that after series of investigations, they found his name on an Al Qaeda terrorist document where he had threatened to kill American citizens wherever he finds them. He issued a specific threat to cut the throats of US citizens when he is released. You now understand why, when he was released, he was sent to Ghana where the concentration of Americans is low. He was listed by the Americans as a high risk terrorist who is likely to attack America, its interests and allies.

The 34-year old Khalid Shaykh Muhammad was the second ex-Guantanamo bay refugee to be transferred to Ghana. He lived his entire life in Saudi Arabia even though he claimed to be a Yemeni citizen. He was a student at Haram Al-Makki mosque. During his studies, he met one Abu Ali Al-Yati. This man showed him videos of fighting and training camps in Chechnya. Khalid met his devil that day. Al Yati was able to convince him to understand that the Koran admonishes Muslims to know how to fight. Khalid was convinced and in his excitement he left his studies and travelled to Afghanistan for training.

Al Yati helped him with travel arrangements and funds to start the three week training under the tutelage of an Al-Qaeda trainer. The training consisted of familiarization with pistols, heavy machine gun, rocket-propelled grenade launchers, home-made bombs preparation techniques and hand-to-hand combat techniques. When he was later arrested by the US he denied awareness of some of the people he had been dealing with and those who are connected to Usama Bin Laden. Khalid joined in the attacks against the coalition forces but, unlike Bin Atef, he was determined to hide information from the Americans in order to be branded a medium risk detainee.

Dear reader, these are the people we are confronted with in Ghana. Are we safe? Ghanaians have reacted angrily to the decision of government to accept the two men, fearing the risk they pose to the country’s security. But the US says it has clarified and addressed all security lapses before transferring the two Yemeni detainees, nearly six years after their transfer approval. Do you believe this? Why were they not transferred to the US where security is much better than Ghana?

At this point it is important to ask what actually compelled Mahama to accept the two ex-detainees in Ghana. It is reliably learnt that the two Yemeni undesirables have been given residence in Takoradi. The question many are posing is, why Takoradi? There are more questions than answers. It is hard to tell how residents of Takoradi would provide security for these Yemeni undesirables.

Many were shocked and frightened when they heard the news that an accommodation has been provided for the two ex-detainees. Many argue that Flagstaff house would have been better for these potentially dangerous terrorists. Rumours are rife and questions are being asked about the rationale behind the deal. It was rumoured that Mahama and his administration have been paid $300 million. Mahama came out with a swift denial. Even though no one can provide any documentary evidence of the deal, tongues will not stop wagging.

The question will continue to be asked: what compelled Mahama and his administration to accept these ex-detainees to Ghana without consulting parliament? Is Mahama telling Ghanaians that accepting to host these rejected terrorists brought no benefit to Ghana? Ghana has no relationship with Yemen so if what Mahama is saying is true, why should Ghana accept these undesirables that have been rejected by their own country Yemen? What is the sense in bringing these men to Ghana to be catered for by the tax payer? The Minister of Foreign Affairs and Regional Integration, Mrs Hanna Tetteh, has tried to calm the nerves of Ghanaians without success.

The Minister was invited to parliament to explain the rationale behind accepting to host the ex-detainees in Ghana. She made a mess of herself by not giving any direct responses to questions asked and displaying ignorance in some of the questions posed. That was very absurd, for how can she claim that she knew nothing about the president's decision to bring in the ex-detainees. This was a blatant lie to the members of parliament.

Who, then, is privy to the negotiations that went on to re-locate these Yemen undesirables? The decision to bring them to Ghana will be laid squarely on the shoulders of the president, John Dramani Mahama. Ghana is a peace-loving country but the citizens find it hard to accept the two ex-detainees who they consider to be potentially dangerous. President Mahama consistently lied to Ghanaians that the government will not be financially responsible for the upkeep of the ex-detainees. This assertion by the president was debunked by a high-ranking and well informed official of the US Embassy in an interview with Kwasi Pratt. He told Kwasi Pratt that Ghana will bear part of the cost. Kwesi Pratt asked about who would pay for security issues. The official replied the cost of security was the sole responsibility of the Ghana government. By paying part of the cost to host these men and taking sole responsibility of security, what does Ghana hope to get from this deal?

The NPP has condemned Mahama and his administration for stooping so low and kowtowing to the US. The issue of these Yememi undesirables has assumed political and religious dimensions. Interestingly, it took Nana Addo a long time to open his mouth to comment on the issue. Ghana is sitting on a time bomb if proper surveillance and security are not provided for the Guantanamo bay ex-detainees.

Stephen Atta Owusu
Author: Dark Faces at Crossroads