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How a Russian Ballet Dancer Ended Up in Guantanamo

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By Ephrat Livni, Esq. on June 23, 2016 6:57 AM

Many Americans have probably forgotten about Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, and the naval base there, where foreign detainees are held with limited legal process. The detainees are believed to be terrorists, or at least associated with terrorist organizations, and some have been in custody for more than a decade, since the Iraq War.

One such detainee is Ravil Kamilevitch Mingazov, and his story is odd. Trained as a professional dancer, he was in Russia's military ballet troop, did passport control at the Mongolian border and managed military food operations. But somehow Mingazov ended up in Pakistan where he was picked up by American authorities about 14 years ago. He is now seeking release and his story is interesting, revealing just how hard these cases are to decide.

Dancer in the Dark

Mingazov this week appeared before the Guantanamo Periodic Review Board and told his story, according to Courthouse News Service. He said he left the Russian military due to the lack of respect for his Muslim traditions, like praying five times a day and eating food that is prepared according to certain rules. The US government characterizes the split less gently, however, claiming Mingazov was radicalized in the Russian military and tried to join an al-Qaida-affiliated terrorist group in Uzbekistan.

Mingazov was caught by the Americans at what he calls a "guest house" in Pakistan and what the government calls an al-Qaida-affiliated home. It is known that he was trained in Afghanistan and that he fought. But Mingazov says he never fought Americans. His lawyer, from the Washington, D.C. firm Reed, Smith, says that he's gentle and not a threat and that in ten years of acquaintanceship they have become friends.

Mingazov told American authorities that he does not want to return to Russia and that he receives better treatment in Guantanamo than he did in Russia. He has asked to join his wife and child in the United Kingdom, and a ruling on his release is expected in a few months.

But the dancer and others being held in Guantanamo may find it harder than ever to convince American authorities to release them. Earlier this month, The Washington Post reported that Obama administration officials believe about 12 detainees who were released from Guantanamo Bay during the Bush administration have since been involved in attacks against Americans internationally.

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