The western Massachusetts university town of Amherst is mulling a resolution urging the Congress to release cleared Guantanamo Bay detainees into the United States and calling for the town to welcome those detainees into the community.
The town's Select Board voted 2-1 Monday night to endorse a warrant article titled, "Resolution to Assist in the Safe Resettlement of Cleared Guantanamo Detainees."
"The United States has a long history of being a place of refuge and asylum for persecuted people. There's nothing new about this," said Gerry Weiss, one of the two selectmen supporting the resolution. "This is the tradition of the United States."
The resolution was submitted by Ruth Hooke, a Town Meeting member and a member of Pioneer Valley No More Guantanamos.
In briefing material supplied to the selectmen, the group said the resolution "asks our local community to look beyond the stereotype that all the men at Guantanamo are 'terrorists,' and instead to look at each man as a human being who deserves human rights and a presumption of innocence until proven guilty."
Stephanie O'Keeffe, chairwoman of the five-member board, was the lone vote against the resolution.
"It was just my luck that two of us were absent," O'Keeffe said.
O'Keeffe said any citizen who gets 100 certified valid signatures of registered voters can propose a warrant article for the special town meeting to consider. The selectmen are then required to take a position on each article.
O'Keeffe said she opposed the resolution because "I don't believe that town meeting is the appropriate venue for dealing with domestic and foreign policy articles. To me, town meeting is about local issues." But she also noted that the town has taken such stands in the past.
Weiss said he wasn't concerned that the cleared detainees could be a danger. "I think they were wrongly imprisoned," he said. "I donít believe they want revenge. I think they would be very grateful to any people that show them some kindness. They may harbor some ill will toward the US government, but that would be a lot of people."
Weiss said that town meeting in recent years had passed resolutions urging the US to negotiate with Iran, rather than engage in saber-rattling, and before that, not to go to war in Iraq. He was the author of the latter resolution, he said.
Mark Wootton, 60, of Worthington, owner of Amherst Books, said, "I agree with those who say this is outside of the expertise of the town, but I think it's a reasonable thing for the town to welcome or accept them if they were cleared by the courts and if they want to be here. They should be free to live here or anywhere else. Banning people from living in certain towns or places is antithetical to a democracy. They're free to live in Worthington, too, so far as I'm concerned."
Jonathan Tucker, 57, the Amherst planning director, said, "This is a typical Amherst thing to do. Amherst has a long history of engaging to foreign policy, and it's not out of character for a New England town to believe it has as much a right to weigh in on foreign policy as the federal or state governments."
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