Eager to demonstrate its reliability as Washington's strategic partner, the Georgian government is downplaying security concerns about three former prisoners dispatched from the United States' Guantanamo Bay prison to Georgia.
US President Barack Obama's administration has been under ongoing pressure to find new homes for prisoners housed at the US-run Guantanamo Bay prison in Cuba after pledging to close the facility by January 2010. Over 180 prisoners remain in limbo.
Georgian opposition groups have raised concerns about potential risks from Tbilisi's willingness to help house former Guantanamo detainees, but ruling party politicians and government officials have brushed aside worries that the three men pose any security threat.
"The Georgian government made the decision to accept several detainees as part of our strategic partnership with the United States," Deputy Parliamentary Speaker Gigi Tsereteli commented to EurasiaNet.org.
"Three or four people is [sic] not any threat for the Georgian state."
One senior Ministry of Internal Affairs official underlined that the trio will live "normal lives" in their host country.
A special group of ministry representatives traveled to the Guantanamo prison in December 2009 to interview possible detainees for relocation, said Shota Utiashvili, head of the ministry's analytical department. The Georgian government was satisfied that the men are not dangerous, although wanted to confirm that they were not "psychologically damaged," he added.
The men have already contacted their families, and are free to bring them to Georgia if they wish, Utiashvili continued.
The men are currently housed in Tbilisi and have been provided with language tutors to help them learn Georgian.
Utiashvili said that the Georgian government is not paying for the men's accommodations or needs, but would not elaborate about who is covering the cost of their care.
He would not identify any of the ex-prisoners.
The US attorney for one of the men, however, maintains that he is far from being a terrorist.
In March 23 comments posted on her blog, Chicago-based attorney H. Candace Gorman identified one of the transferred prisoners as Abdul Hamid al-Ghizzawi. In published interviews, Gorman has described al-Ghizzawi as a Libyan baker in his mid-40s with an Afghan wife and small daughter.
He allegedly fled Libya for Afghanistan in the 1980s, and opened a spice shop and bakery.
His story appears to be well known among anti-Guantanamo activists like British journalist and filmmaker Andy Worthington, who has made a documentary about the prison.
Worthington claims that al-Ghizzawi was among scores of Arab nationals scooped up by bounty hunters looking to trade alleged Al-Qaeda sympathizers for cash.
al-Ghizzawi was declared innocent by a military tribune in 2004, but was not released. Attorney Gorman writes on her blog that he suffered health problems while in prison and was often in solitary confinement.
Utiashvili would not confirm or deny that al-Ghizzawi is one of the three former Guantanamo prisoners sent to Georgia.
Opposition figures like Irakli Alasania, Georgia's former ambassador to the United Nations, have called for greater transparency about the transfer. Discussions about such a transfer were ongoing as of late autumn 2009, according to Georgian government statements made to EurasiaNet.org. [For details, see the Eurasia Insight archive].
But filmmaker Worthington noted that it is often in the men's best interests not to be identified. Family members at home could face retribution, he said.
Another concern is the reaction in the host country.
Detainees face "almost complete ignorance about any of the details of Guantanamo" in any host country, which can lead to misperceptions by the local population, Worthington claimed.
So far, however, ordinary Georgians, long used to riding the waves of larger powers' foreign policies, appear to have responded to the trio's arrival with equanimity.
The three men have, in fact, already contributed to the country's rich culture of self-deprecating jokes.
A cartoon published on March 29 by the weekly newspaper Kviris Palitra illustrated their reaction to being transferred to Georgia, a country still struggling to recover from the 2008 war with Russia and years of economic decline.
Lament the men: "But we didn't harm (America) that much!"
Molly Corso is a freelance reporter based in Tbilisi