Ghana's religious leaders battle over taking in ex-Guantanamo prisoners

A guard tower of Camp Delta is seen at the Guantanamo Bay Naval Station in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.Reuters

A row has broken out among Ghana's religious leaders over the relocation to the country of former prisoners from Guantanamo Bay.

The move is part of US President Barack Obama's drive to close the prison where suspected terrorists have been held, many of them without trial and sometimes for decades. Two Yemeni prisoners, Khalid al-Dhuby and Mahmoud Omar Bin Atef, are being released in Ghana. They have each been held for more than a decade without being charged.

The men have said they looked forward to living in Ghana, and had even followed the national football team in prison.

However, the country's Catholic bishops issued a statement urging the government to "act in the best interest of the nation by sending these men back to wherever they came from".

The bishops' letter said, "we think that their presence clearly poses a threat to Ghana", continuing: "Ghana has been open to receiving refugees in the past, but these two men are not in this category. We think that they are not refugees but time-bombs, and so [the] government should do all it can to send them back as soon as practicable."

Two other Christian groups, the Christian Council of Ghana (CCG) and the Ghana Pentecostal and Charismatic Council, have also asked the government not to admit the former prisoners. "The whole process lacks transparency," said the CCG.

However, a spokesman for Ghana's National Chief Imam, Sheik Aremeyaw Shaibu, criticised the position taken by the Churches.

In a radio interview he said their reaction "pains my heart". Of the two prisoners, he added: "They're human beings; they've a right to life... they've a right to human dignity, they need a place to put their lives together."

He continued: "Even if they [detainees] were to be Christians, we [Muslims] would accept them here, so why can't the Christians? I will urge all Christians to rather welcome these detainees. They are not terrorists," he said.

He added that Christian Ghanaians must "demonstrate the love Christ gave them. They must demonstrate that love beyond themselves. That is what I am expecting from the Christians and not this intolerance."

Ghana's president John Mahama has defended the relocation, saying that Ghanaians were more likely to die in a road accident than at the hands of the Yemenis. Speaking at a press conference in the capital, Accra, he said that Guantanamo Bay was a "blot on the human rights record of the world".