East Bay News

Berkeley Guantanamo proposal stirs controversy

Tuesday, February 15, 2011
Berkeley City Council Will Berkeley roll out welcome mat for Gitmo detainees? Obamas advisers are quietly crafting a proposal to close Guantanamo Bay prison. (AP)

Tuesday night, the Berkeley City Council will decide whether to roll out the welcome mat to two Guantanamo Bay detainees. The backers of this resolution say that many of these detainees face persecution and even torture in their home counties and that they have nowhere else to go. However, opponents say bringing them to Berkeley would put the entire city at risk.

Welcome to Berkeley, home to a top tier university, a peace and love attitude, and if the City Council sees fit, two Guantanamo Bay detainees may call it home, too.

They are not violent people, they are well educated, they would be a great fit for our community and I would be happy to welcome one of them to my home. There's no danger to the community whatsoever," said Cynthia Papermaster.

Papermaster heads "Berkeley, No More Guantanamo." She is so sure that her idea to invite two detainees cleared of wrongdoing to live with local families is safe, she's willing to let one of them live in her own home.

"They're, we believe, innocent from the beginning and they simply need to heal and resume their lives and we'd love to offer them that opportunity in Berkeley," said Papermaster.

The two who would be invited to move to Berkeley are an Algerian chef who moved to Afghanistan who was arrested while crossing into Pakistan, and a ballet dancer who converted to Islam while in the Russian Army, he later moved to Afghanistan and Pakistan.

"The first thing that went through our mind was, 'Here is Berkeley at it again,'" said Danny Gonzalez with Move Forward America.

Gonzalez visited Guantanamo Bay in 2008. He says if Berkeley officials are so eager to live with Guantanamo detainees, his pro-troop organization will pay to relocate them to the island prison.

"Berkeley's putting their citizens in danger. They're putting their citizens at considerable economic risk as well," said Gonzalez.

Berkeley's Guantanamo debate comes as the city faces an $11 million budget deficit and potential cuts to police and mental health services. The sponsor of the detainee resolution and a member of the city's Peace and Justice Commission, Rita Maran, said there would be zero fiscal impact if the former inmates move to town.

"I'm concerned that the issue gets a fair hearing and that there not be a kind of painting with a broad brush, 'Oh, it's another Berkeley thing,'" said Maran. "Mind you, these folks have been there for up to nine years, they did nothing wrong. Nobody has ever said they did anything wrong and they are having to live cooped up with people that have done pretty horrific things."

It's not just a Berkeley thing. It turns out they are not the only city considering a resolution like this. A couple of cities in Massachusetts have already passed similar resolutions, but it turns out there is a catch. In January, President Barack Obama signed an act that forbids the U.S. from paying for cleared detainees to relocate anywhere to the U.S. If they're in prison, they've got no money and they've got no passport, it is unclear how they would get here.

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berkeley, guantanamo bay, east bay news, cecilia vega
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