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Opposition attack Government for accepting Guantanamo Bay detainees

By Mzia Kupunia
Thursday, March 25
The transfer of three detainees from the US military prison at Guantanamo Bay to Georgia has caused controversy, with Government officials suggesting that the move will deepen our strategic cooperation with the US and the opposition claiming that it could put Georgia at risk of terrorist attacks.

The detainees were moved to Georgia on Tuesday morning, according to Georgian Interior Ministry spokesperson Shota Utiashvili. They are citizens of Middle Eastern countries, he said, but he refrained from giving their names due to “safety concerns.” Utiashvili said the detainees carry no threat for the country as they are not “dangerous criminals”. “They will not be put in prison, they will live freely. Before bringing them to Georgia we studied their cases. They are not very dangerous criminals and were not under a very strict regime even in Guantanamo. So we hope that their transfer to Georgia will not cause any problems,” the Interior Ministry spokesperson said on Wednesday.

The decision of the Georgian administration to accept Guantanamo prisoners has triggered criticism from opposition politicians. Some opposition leaders claim that such a decision should not have been made “behind the backs” of the Georgian population. The administration is obliged to give explanations about the transfer of the detainees, leader of the Alliance for Georgia, Irakli Alasania said. However he did agree that the move does not create any high risk for the country. “Georgia is an active member of the International Anti-Terrorism Coalition and cooperates deeply with the US and other states, which means it has certain accountabilities,” Alasania stated.

Labour Party and Movement for Fair Georgia representatives made more critical comments on Wednesday. One of the leaders of the Labour Party, Kakha Dzagania, demanded the return of the prisoners to their countries of origin. Speaking at a special press conference Dzagania said that the import of Guantanamo Bay prisoners to Georgia puts the country in “major danger.” He suggested that Muslim states will confront Georgia over this decision. “President Saakashvili is trying to restore his shattered international reputation at the expense of putting the Georgian population in danger,” Dzagania told journalists. The transfer of the Guantanamo detainees increases the threat of the terrorist attacks in Georgia, the Movement for Fair Georgia, led by former PM Zurab Noghaideli, suggested. Commenting on the Georgian Interior Ministry’s refusal to reveal the prisoners’ identities, Petre Mamradze of the MFG said that some forces outside the country “would do their best to find out the identities of the prisoners and take them from Georgia, even by means of some terrorist activities.”

Ruling Party MPs have downplayed the concerns of the opposition. Chairman of the Parliamentary Committee on European Integration Davit Darchiashvili said that the opposition politicians are either “not competent” on this issue or “purposely misleading the Georgian population.” By accepting Guantanamo detainees into Georgia the country is making its contribution to international security and is standing with the civilized world, Darchiashvili told The Messenger. “Strategic partnership between countries is a bilateral process,” the MP said. "The risks that might be created by this decision are far smaller than the benefits Georgia will get,” he added, reiterating that the risks are “minimal.”

Some analysts agree that the transfer of the detainees to Georgia will not endanger the country. “Their presence will probably not put the country under threat, however this is quite a vague issue. For example, we do not know who these people are, if they were convicted or not. It is possible that they are absolutely innocent, because there have been such cases as well,” analyst Irakli Sesiashvili noted. “The legal basis of the transfer should also be clarified. It is very hard to assess the legal aspects of this issue, because we know almost nothing about the former prisoners,” he added.

The US Department of Justice released a special statement on March 23 expressing its gratitude to Georgia “for its willingness to support US efforts to close the Guantanamo Bay detention facility.”