You have to love New England Town Meetings!
On November 2, 2009, voters in Amherst, Massachusetts will be asked to act on fourteen articles posted on the official town warrant. As in any small town, there are typical small town issues such as Article 12 which asks the town to consider accepting Lawrence Circle as a town way. Lawrence Circle is a strip of land 50 feet wide. You know the street, it starts on the north side of Owen Drive and runs about 200 feet ending in a cul-de-sac. This may not seem like an important issue, but in these economically challenging times, it is fair to question whether or not the town should take on the added expense of the up keep of this street.
Then there is Article 14 which will ask the voters to 1) Urge Congress to repeal the ban on releasing cleared detainees into the United States and 2) Welcome such cleared detainees into Amherst as soon as the ban is lifted. Article 14 was presented by Amherst Town Meeting member Ruth F. Hooke. According to video posted on the must read blog “Only In Amherst,” Ms. Hooke states that the detainees who she would propose join their community “have been wrongly detained at Guantanamo. They never committed hostile acts against our military or our government.” She goes on to mention two specific detainees she has in mind, although she does not present their names.
Ruth Hooke is a member of many organizations including the Pioneer Valley Chapter of No More Guantanamos, a national coalition of citizens, communities, and organizations dedicated to ensure justice and human rights for the prisoners of the Guantanamo Bay Prison in Cuba. It is with mention of this organization that Ms. Hooke introduces Article 14 to the Town of Amherst warrant. Ms. Hooke also mentions two prisoners she would like to see relocated to this small Western Massachusetts community. One has to ask if the two prisoners she has in mind are the two prisoners whose story will be presented at the November 19 meeting of Pioneer Valley No More Guantanamos to be held at Edwards Church. The meeting will include a presentation called, “Two Lives From Guantanamo: Yes In Our Backyard.” From the web announcement:
Who are the men imprisoned at Guantánamo? On Thursday, November 19, at 7:00 p.m. at Edwards Church in Northampton, Valley residents will have a rare glimpse into the lives of two current prisoners at Guantánamo Bay prison. Two actors will portray detainees Ahmed Belbacha and Ravil Mingazov, using statements the men have made and other information about their lives. Following the portrayals, Zachary Katznelson, Legal Director for Guantánamo Bay and Secret Prisons at Reprieve in London, will speak. He has represented Belbacha and some 40 other detainees who have been held at the prison, including Binyam Mohamed, who returned to the UK earlier this year.
Pioneer Valley No More Guantánamos is using two prisoners’ stories to counteract public fears that have sprung up since President Obama announced his plan to close Guantánamo after nearly eight years of hearing about “the worst of the worst.” We are one of four local groups across the country, in Colorado, Florida and North Carolina, who hope to help a few detainees obtain justice by sharing their stories with our communities. Our goals are
- To build support for the federal government either to prosecute prisoners in federal court or release them.
- To offer local community welcome and support to men whom courts or the military have already cleared of wrong-doing, and who are unable to return to their home countries because of the danger of persecution.
Who are these two innocent detainees who Ms. Hooke would have relocated to Amherst? See for yourself. The unclassified Combatant Status Review of Ahmed Belbacha is here and the unclassified Combatant Status Review of Ravil Mingazov is here. Look at both public records and decide if these are men you would welcome into your community.
According to the Amherst Bulletin, this is not the first time that Amherst has ventured into the world of international politics. In 2007 the Bulletin reported that the Town of Amherst received a letter of gratitude from the Islamic Republic of Iran for their vote urging the United States not to attack that country. Apparently at the Special Town Meeting on November 1, 2006 there were four international issues on the Warrant. Included with the Iranian resolution were resolutions to impeach President Bush and Vice-President Cheney, stop the genocide in Darfur, and for the immediate troop withdrawal from Iraq. All four resolutions passed.
Accepting a new public way and urging Congress to allow Gitmo detainees to relocate in the United States…
You have to love New England Town Meetings!
For more on Amherst, Massachusetts, watch as Town Meeting voters debate whether or not to allow the Flag of the United States to be displayed on public streets. The debate took place approximately twelve hours before the planes crashed into the World Trade Center on September 11, 2001.