Guantanamo Debates |Releasing Ballet Dancer

     WASHINGTON (CN) – A professional-level Russian ballet dancer held at Guantanamo for nearly 14 years asked for a transfer from the prison Tuesday.
     The United States says Ravil Kamilevich Mingazov joined forces with extremist groups after 11 years in the Russian military as a logistics warrant officer.
     An anonymous military representative for the 48-year old ethnic Tatar told the Guantanamo Periodic Review Board today, however, Mingazov did not train for combat.
     After two years with Russia’s military ballet troupe, Mingazov spent his years of service doing passport control along the Mongolian border and managing food and cooking operations for a base of 1,500, his male representative said, reading from a public statement.
     Mingazov appeared before the board in a short-sleeved, white shirt.
     His dark beard long but neatly groomed, Mingazov fiddled with his glasses during the hearing, sliding them off and on his face as he read his hearing documents.
     The U.S. says Mingazov left his military service over the government’s treatment of Muslims, sparking his quest to join the al-Qaida affiliated Islamic movement of Uzbekistan, and extremist group Tatar Jama’at in 2001, according to his unclassified profile, which an anonymous female voice read aloud during the closed-circuit viewing of the hearing at the Pentagon.
     The detainee’s representative had a gentler version of events, telling the board that Mingazov was “increasingly bothered” that the military prevented him from performing the five mandatory Islamic prayers every day.
     The military also allegedly denied Mingazov a halal diet of food prepared according to Islamic law. Mingazov’s “peaceful” efforts to resolve such issues set off a chain of events that propelled his move from Russia to Tajikistan, a Muslim country where he and his family could practice their religion freely, his representative told the board.
     The U.S. has a different version of events, claiming Mingazov trained in Tajikistan with the Islamic movement of Uzbekistan before traveling to Afghanistan in mid-2001 to join forces with extremist groups there.
     “RS-702 probably attended several training camps in Afghanistan where he learned to make explosives, poisons, and chemical grenades,” his unclassified profile states, referring to the detainee by his internment serial number.
     The U.S. says Mingazov admitted to fighting with the Taliban against the northern alliance, but that he denies ever fighting against the Americans.
     A representative for the detainee says Mingazov ended up in Afghanistan after being separated from his family in Tajikistan. His wife and child had returned to Russia to get medical treatment when their son became ill, and the Tajik government pushed other foreigners, including Mingazov, out of the country, his representative said. After the onset of coalition operations, Mingazov fled to Pakistan “where he was detained at a guest house,” his representative told the board.
     The U.S. meanwhile attributes Mingazov’s 2002 arrival in Pakistan to language barriers that prevented him from holding any positions of authority in Afghanistan. The U.S. says Mingazov was captured at an al-Qaida safe house, but that it has no information about him from other detainees concerning his pre-detention life.
     Mingazov himself has provided sparse, contradictory information about his time in Afghanistan and the circumstances that led to his capture, the U.S. says.
     Gary Thompson, an attorney for Mingazov with Reed Smith in Washington, D.C., has represented Mingazov for 10 years.
     “I believe and know Ravil to be a kind and peaceful man who, if released, will do no harm to anyone,” Thompson wrote in his public statement, which he read aloud to the board. The letter itself sets this text off in italics.
     Thompson said his conclusion comes from observing Mingazov’s character during their many encounters.
     “Almost without exception, Ravil has been kind, cheerful, and humorous – something that is extraordinary to us given his long imprisonment,” Thompson said.
     The two have engaged in long conversations about Russian politics, history, philosophy, literature, their families and their hopes for the future, Thompson said, noting that the two share a common love for running and exercise.
     “When discussing Russian politics, Ravil does so with a keen and deep understanding of the issues, history, and a respect for the struggles of ethnic people who simply want to live and worship in peace,” Thompson told the board.
     When the two meet now, Thompson said, they mostly talk as friends now.
     The United States notes that Mingazov does not want to return to Russia.
     “RS-702 maintains a strong disdain for the Russian hovernment and does not want to be repatriated, claiming his treatment in Guantanamo is better than the treatment he received in Russia,” his public profile states.
     Thompson indicated that the United Kingdom, where Mingazov’s son and other family members live, “would provide the highest levels of security assurances” if the detainees is cleared for transfer.
     The Periodic Review Board will issue a ruling on Mingazov’s transfer with the next few months.

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