NEW BEGINNINGS

Two ex-Guantanamo prisoners who can’t go home hope to put their lives back together in Ghana

Quartz africa
Quartz africa

Two Yemenis who were held for over a decade at the controversial US naval base in Cuba’s Guantanamo Bay have arrived in Ghana to restart their lives.

The two men, Mahmud Umar Muhammad bin Atef and Khalid Muhammad Salih al-Dhuby, are among 17 detainees who were to be released this month, as part of US president Barack Obama’s plan to close the detention center by 2017. Bin Atef and al-Dhuby have been cleared for release since 2009. Obama reiterated his pledge to shut Guantanamo in his State of the Union address on Jan. 12: “It’s expensive, it’s unnecessary, and it only serves as a recruitment brochure for our enemies,” he said.

Some Ghanaian citizens and Christian organizations, however, have protested about possible security risks. Ghana’s president, John Mahama, defended the decision. “Any Ghanaian is more in danger of dying from a road accident than from these Guantanamo detainees…. They just want to pick up the pieces of their lives and live normally. We don’t have anything to fear,” Mahama told reporters.

graphic for Guatanamo
(Reuters Graphics)

Released detainees have come to sub-Saharan Africa before when other countries would not take them. Jamal Kiyemba, a British citizen with alleged links to al-Qaeda who was released in 2006, was deported to Uganda after the UK refused to let him in. (Kiyemba was arrested in April last year over his possible involvement in the murder of a state prosecutor.) In 2010, two other released detainees were sent to Algeria and Cape Verde.

Mahama said the two men will live on a secure compound, with chaperones at all times. They will be allowed to stay in Ghana for two years, after which they can return to Yemen. (For now, US officials have said they will not send released detainees back to Yemen because of the civil war there.)

Mahama said Ghana had received no money, but that the country would receive intelligence from the US about potential security threats. The West African country is stable, but concerned about its proximity to the militant group Boko Haram in Nigeria.

US government documents published by Wikileaks classified al-Dhuby as “medium risk” and bin Atef as “high risk,” but didn’t pin any specific crimes or attacks on them. Al-Dhuby, born in 1981 in Saudi Arabia, was a “probable member” of al-Qaeda and had traveled to Afghanistan to fight, according to the documents, while bin Atef, born in 1979 also in Saudi Arabia, was an “admitted member” of the Taliban who underwent training in al-Qaida camps in Afghanistan. His lawyer described bin Atef as a “smart bright young man” who wants to start a family and find stable work.

Bin Atef thanked the country for taking them in.”We have been wrongly arrested for 14 years without any charge against us and we have suffered,” he told Ghana Broadcasting Corp (paywall) on Jan. 12th. “We are not looking for revenge because we are not bitter. We want to live in Ghana quietly and peacefully and we want to put our life together,” he said.

Sign up for the Quartz Africa Weekly Brief — the most important and interesting news from across the continent, in your inbox.

home our picks popular latest obsessions search