For the past three years, two Newton lawyers have represented an Algerian detained at Guantanamo Bay Naval Base, a 34-year-old man who has been cleared of wrongdoing. Now the Newton Board of Aldermen is considering a resolution that would invite the man, Abdul Aziz Naji, to resettle in Newton, if Congress lifts its ban on allowing Guantanamo detainees to move to the United States.
The resolution, sponsored by Alderman Stephen M. Linsky, would also urge Congress to rescind the ban. A committee has already approved the resolution, which will go before the full board Tuesday night.
"I think a lot of people knew Newton had a special connection with this particular detainee because of our work," said Ellen Lubell, who with her law partner, Doris Tennant, represents Naji. "We've spoken at many venues over the past few years. We've spoken at schools. We've spoken at libraries. I think Mr. Linsky felt that this community had really expressed support for the work we're doing. And as a next step, the community could really act on that."
Linsky couldn't be reached for comment this morning.
The resolution notes that Naji is "essentially stateless" because he cannot go homing, fearing he will be harmed or killed if he returns to Algeria after eight years in Guantanamo. The resolution observes that Newton has long welcomed many refugees, and adds, "Newton's history of supporting human rights makes it fitting that our community provide safe resettlement to a man who has been unjustly imprisoned by the government at Guantanamo Bay."
Other communities have made similar overtures. In November, members of the Amherst Town Meeting voted to ask Congress to lift the ban and, if that happened, to resettle two detainees in town. The Swiss government has also said that country would take one Guantanamo detainee.
About 215 detainees are still held prisoner at Guantanamo. Although President Obama had originally announced the facility would close this month, he said last year that the deadline would not be met.
Naji was one of about 60 of the detainees who have been cleared for release by the US government but remain at Guantanamo because they have nowhere to go -- it is unsafe for them to return home but no other country has yet agreed to accept them. Naji's lawyers say formal charges were never brought against him. He was working for a legal charity affiliated with a terrorist group when he was arrested.in Pakistan in 2002.
"Clearly if the United States government thought he was a member of a terrorist group, they would have charged him with something," Tennant said. "The United State government clearly did not make that decision."
Kathleen Burge can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org