The woman quoted in the SF Chronicle story, Wendy Kenin, is an outgoing (as of Monday night) member of the Commission. But, one of the current commissioners on the Berkeley Peace and Justice Commission, Rita Maran, who is the author and sponsor of the recommendation, has agreed to come on at 7:35AM TOMORROW MORNING… TO EXPLAIN THIS:
Well wait, before you read on, she’s also an Instructor of Peace and Conflict Studies at Cal – READ THE CLASS DESCRIPTION HERE
The City Council is to vote Feb. 15 on a resolution to invite detainees who have been cleared of wrongdoing to resettle within Berkeley’s sunny confines.
Of the 38 detainees who have been cleared, Berkeley would invite two: a Russian ballet dancer and an Algerian who was a top-rated Italian chef in Austria.
“Our hearts are with all those people who were never tried, held for years and in some cases tortured,” said Wendy Kenin, chairwoman of the city’s Peace and Justice Commission, which crafted the resolution. “As a municipality, this is one thing we can do to right some wrongs of our federal government.”
The two would move to Berkeley and live with local families. Nonprofits would help them find work and generally integrate into life in the East Bay.
Berkeley would not spend any money from its general fund on the plan.
The plan, however, could hit a roadblock with the Department of Defense. The Ike Skelton National Defense Authorization Act of 2011, signed by President Obama on Jan. 7, prohibits the United States from funding the relocation of cleared detainees.
That leaves the detainees in limbo. They have no passports, no visas, no money and no jurisdiction that wants them – except for Berkeley and a few cities in Massachusetts that have passed similar resolutions. They can’t return to their native countries for fear of harassment or torture.
Berkeley’s newest residents would include Djamel Ameziane, an Algerian chef who worked at an upscale Italian restaurant in Vienna. After his work visa was not renewed, he went to Canada but was not granted asylum. Feeling he had few places left to go, he moved to Afghanistan but was arrested while crossing into Pakistan in 2002, trying to escape the violence, according to the Center for Constitutional Rights in New York.
“Mr. Ameziane is college educated, speaks several languages, loves to draw and paint, read mystery novels, cook and play soccer,” said J. Wells Dixon, senior attorney for the Center for Constitutional Rights, which is working on Ameziane’s case. “He is an ideal resettlement candidate.”
The other favored detainee is Ravil Mingazov, a ballet dancer who converted to Islam while serving in the Russian Army. To escape harassment from the KGB, he moved to Afghanistan and then Pakistan, where he was arrested while staying in a house with other Muslim refugees.
Neither man was charged with a crime, and both were subjected to torture at Guantanamo Bay, according to the Center for Constitutional Rights.
Assuming they want to come to Berkeley, the men would not arrive until at least September, after the bureaucracy clears.
“Berkeley has a long history of being welcoming and generous to oppressed people,” said commissioner Phoebe Sorgen. “We know times are tough. We’re not asking for any money. We’d rely on volunteers and donations.”
City Manager Phil Kamlarz has advised the council to take no action on the Guantanamo detainees.
City Councilman Gordon Wozniak said the city has enough problems without taking on the plight of tortured terror suspects.
“This seems like grandstanding to me,” he said. “I’m not sure why the Peace and Justice Commission is taking this up, other than to get on Fox News.”