BERKELEY — The Berkeley City Council, known for its provocative political statements, is considering a measure that would invite freed Guantanamo Bay detainees to resettle in the California college town.
The resolution set for a vote Tuesday night would ask Congress to allow Guantanamo prisoners who have been cleared of wrongdoing to resettle in the U.S. — and welcome one or two" of them to live in Berkeley, a famously liberal city in the San Francisco Bay area.
At least two other U.S. cities — Amherst and Leverett in Massachusetts — have approved similar resolutions aimed at clearing the way for Guantanamo detainees to come the U.S. after their release from the American detention facility in Cuba.
"These men have suffered immensely,” said Cynthia Papermaster, who heads Berkeley No More Guantanamos. "It’s the right thing for all U.S. citizens to say, ’We’re sorry for what happened to you. If you want to come here, we have a place for you.”
Papermaster, a Berkeley resident who asked the council’s Peace and Justice Commission to consider the measure, said former detainees would be sponsored by volunteers and nonprofit groups, and no city money would be used to support them.
"We would be very, very careful to pick one or two who would be a good fit for our community,” Papermaster said, adding that Berkeley could serve as an example to other cities.
Berkeley City Manager Phil Kamlarz is recommending that the council take no action, saying "federal law explicitly prohibits the transfer of Guantanamo detainees to the United States.”
Critics say the move is an empty gesture that takes attention away from more pressing issues facing the city.
"I think it distracts the council from the local business that we actually have control over,” said Councilman Gordon Wozniak. "Why we putting this on the council agenda and getting a big media frenzy over it when it’s beyond our control?”
The resolution singles out two Guantanamo detainees who have been cleared of wrongdoing but don’t want to return to their home countries because they fear persecution — Ravil Mingazov, a Russian ballet dancer, and Djamel Ameziane, an Algerian chef.
Mingazov moved from Russia to Afghanistan and then Pakistan to escape harassment from Russian authorities, according to the Center for Constitutional Rights in New York. He was captured in Pakistan during a police raid in 2002.
Ameziane worked at an upscale Italian restaurant in Austria, was denied asylum in Canada after his work visa expired and moved to Afghanistan feeling he had nowhere else to go, the Center for Constitutional Rights said. He was captured while crossing into Pakistan in 2002.
Separately, the Berkeley City Council is expected to vote Tuesday on a resolution that calls for the "immediate end to the cruel, inhuman, and degrading treatment of PFC. Bradley Manning during his military confinement.”
Manning is being held in a Marine Corps brig in Quantico, Va., on suspicion of leaking tens of thousands of classified government documents to the anti-secrecy website WikiLeaks.
The Pentagon has denied mistreating Manning. A Marine Corps spokesman has said the military is keeping Manning safe, secure and ready for trial.
In December, the Berkeley City Council indefinitely postponed a vote to declare Manning a hero. Some said the move was premature because Manning has not admitted to being the source of the leaks.