The Hill: GOP senators threaten to cut aid for Ghana if Gitmo detainees escape

A group of Republican senators is seeking to cut foreign to Ghana in the 2017 State Department funding bill if the country is unable to hold and monitor two Guantanamo detainees it recently accepted from the United States and ensure they do not reengage in terrorism against the U.S.

Sens. Mark Kirk (Ill.), Roy Blunt (Mo.), James Lankford (Okla.) and Steve Daines (Mont.) — members of the Senate Appropriations Committee — are proposing to consider reducing assistance to Ghana by $10 million per detainee in the event that either of the detainees escape. 

In a letter to Committee Chairman Thad Cochran (Miss.) and State and Foreign Operations and Related Programs Subcommittee Chairman Lindsey Graham (S.C.), the senators raised concerns about the transfers. 

“As you know, the Administration transferred Yemeni detainees Mahmoud Omar Mohammed Bin Atef, a Taliban fighter and member of Osama bin Laden’s ’55th Brigade’ who threatened to cut the throats of American guards and their families upon release, and Khalid Mohammed Salih al Dhuby, an al Qaeda fighter in Afghanistan who reportedly threatened to kill guards at Guantanamo Bay, to Ghana after President John Dramani Mahama agreed to host them for two years,” they wrote in the Jan. 27 letter. 

“While the Administration’s own Guantanamo task force neither cleared Atef and Dhuby of their involvement in terrorism nor recommend them for outright release, U.S. Embassy in Ghana spokesman Daniel Fennell inexplicably told Ghanaian media the ‘current assessment is that these two people coming to Ghana do not pose a security threat,'” they added. 

The Obama administration transferred two Yemeni detainees from the Cuban prison last month in the first such detainee transfer to the country as well as sub-Saharan Africa. The transfers are part of the administration’s bid to move as many detainees to other countries as possible as it looks to bring those remaining to the U.S. 

The senators said they are grateful for Ghana’s friendship, but are wary of Ghana’s ability to detain the detainees for two years, as agreed. 

“The prison system is plagued by decay and mismanagement. The majority of Ghana’s prison facilities were constructed during the colonial era and lack the modern infrastructure required to hold inmates,” they wrote. 

“According to one third-party study, the country’s prison system operates at 145 percent capacity nationally, with some prisons operating up to 300 percent over capacity. In recent years, 30 or more prisoners have escaped from Ghana’s prisons annually. It is clear no facility in the world, let alone in Ghana, could detain terrorists as securely as Guantanamo,” they added. 

The senators also said that with a record of 30 percent of detainees either being known or suspected of rejoining the fight, “it is reckless to release more of these prisoners, particularly when the ability of the host country to hold and monitor these detainees is in doubt.” 

They argued the threatened funding cut would give Ghanaian  authorities incentive to allocate appropriate resources to closely and securely monitor the detainees. 

The move, however, could also intimidate other countries from accepting more Guantanamo detainees. There are currently 91 detainees at the prison.  

The issue has already become a hot-button one in Ghana, where political opposition leaders are using the transfer to accuse the current president of accepting payment from the U.S. and endangering the country. The president has denied taking any payments from the U.S.