Massachusetts town says yes to Guantánamo detainees
The small college town of Amherst, Mass., voted to accept detainees released from the Guantánamo detention camp in Cuba. Congress has previously voted that Guantánamo detainees will not be allowed to settle in the US.
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Arguing in support of the resolution Wednesday night, select board member Gerry Weiss compared Amherst with a town in occupied France that sheltered 5,000 Jewish people during World War II. Town meeting member Carol Gray projected photos of Guantánamo detainees who she says have been wrongfully imprisoned – including an Al Jazeera cameraman and boys captured when they were 16 or 17 years old.Skip to next paragraph
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“People are being held for six, seven years without trials. Even the Nazis had trials,” she said. “This is an outrage.”
But the chairwoman of the select board, Stephanie O’Keeffe, had reservations about the resolution. She said she had received a phone call from a University of Massachusetts official who told her that parents of college students will be concerned for their children’s safety if detainees from Guantánamo settle in Amherst. Ms. O’Keefe also spoke to a woman who promised to strike Amherst College and the University of Massachusetts off her son’s college application list if the resolution passed.
The resolution “is being portrayed as making Amherst a safe haven for terrorists,” O’Keeffe said. “The way it is being perceived is bad for our reputation.”
Town meeting member Stanley Gawle also did not support the resolution. He said he will start carrying a gun if anyone from Guantánamo actually moves to Amherst.
“That will give me a reason to carry it,” he said. “I feel that our government is in a hurry to clear Guantánamo out, and I have reservations about how thorough the clearing process is going to be.”
Amherst, like other left-leaning college towns, is not shy about putting in its two cents' worth concerning US foreign policy and other clearly federal matters. In 2006, the town considered resolutions to urge the US government to pursue diplomacy with Iran, to immediately bring troops home from Iraq, to act to stop the genocide in Darfur, and to impeach President Bush. All were approved, and the resolution to impeach Mr. Bush and Vice President Dick Cheney passed 85 to 29.
Though more than 60 Guantánamo detainees have been cleared for release by the Pentagon, they remain in US custody because it is deemed unsafe for them to return to their home countries and no other country will accept them, says Joanne Mariner, director of the counterterrorism program at Human Rights Watch.
Amherst’s resolution is significant because Congress's unwillingness to resettle the cleared Guantánamo detainees on American soil makes it difficult for European governments to accept them, says Ms. Mariner.
“In terms of a statement of public willingness, I think it’s quite important,” she says of Amherst's resolution. “The best way to convince European countries to take more detainees would be for us to take a few ourselves.”
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