Berkeley City Council resolution could open city to Guantanamo detainees

A resolution supporting the closure of Guantanamo Bay will go before the Berkeley City Council at its meeting next Tuesday, and would include a letter addressed to President Barack Obama demanding that the prison be shut down.

Aside from calling for the closure of Guantanamo and denouncing the U.S. government’s continued detainment of inmates who have been cleared of all charges, the resolution — submitted by the Peace and Justice Commission — also declares that one or more of those detainees would be welcome in Berkeley once Congressional bans on their relocation have been lifted. The commission voted to submit the recommendation to the City Council at its July 11 meeting.

Commissioner Rita Maran, who authored the resolution, said she hopes Berkeley can bring this issue back into the spotlight.

According to Maran, there are approximately 30 to 40 prisoners still being held at Guantanamo who have been cleared of all charges, but have yet to be released. It is these detainees that her resolution addresses.

Shortly after he was elected, Obama said he planned to close Guantanamo by 2010. One year later, this still has not happened.

“It is to our shame that the government has failed to release them,” Maran said. “They have never been charged and they never will be. Under the current conditions they cannot be moved to the U.S. either. There is no place to send them.”

Maran added that many of these prisoners have been at Guantanamo for up to 10 years, and some were detained when they were still children. Maran said that, in many cases, their mental health has deteriorated as a result of their incarceration and the interrogation conditions they have been subjected to.

Berkeley has designated itself as a “city of refuge” in the past, beginning with a resolution passed in 1971. The city has reaffirmed this status several times since then in resolutions passed regarding Central American refugees, illegal immigrants at risk of deportation and conscientious objectors to war.

According to the resolution, two other cities — both in Massachusetts — have also passed resolutions calling for the federal government to lift the ban on resettling cleared detainees, and have both offered to accept former prisoners.

If the resolution is passed, the city plans to notify Obama, Attorney General Eric Holder, Senators Dianne Feinstein, D-California and Barbara Boxer, D-California. Maran said that congressional Representative Barbara Lee, D-California already sent Maran a letter deploring the continued existence of Guantanamo as a detention center.

“I hope that it will make some headlines by reminding everyone that the people living in the dark and forgotten are still there,” Maran said. “What’s happening there is contrary to the precepts of our country, and we’re trying to put a spotlight on it.”

Adelyn Baxter covers city government.