Germans Split on Offering US Help With Guantanamo Inmates | Germany| News and in-depth reporting from Berlin and beyond | DW | 21.01.2009
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Germans Split on Offering US Help With Guantanamo Inmates

It is up to the US alone to deal with prisoners released from the Guantanamo prison camp, according to a leading German politician. But other experts say Germany should not exclude the option of taking in detainees.

Image showing US president Obama, the American flag and entrance to the Guantanamo prison camp

One of President Obama's first acts was suspending trials at Guantanamo

German Interior Minister Wolfgang Schaeuble said that he did not see why countries in the European Union should provide sanctuary to people who are too dangerous for the United States.

"If they come from countries whose human rights record makes it impossible for them to be sent back there, then they will have to remain in the United States," Schaeuble said in a newspaper interview with the Frankfurter Rundschau published on Wednesday, Jan. 21.

US President Barack Obama on his first day in office ordered the suspension of prosecutions at Guantanamo for 120 days. He is expected to order the closure of the detention center for terrorist suspects and begin considering ways to deal with the 250 detainees who are still being held at the camp. Most of the remaining detainees have been held for years without charges.

Germany should remain open

Wolfgang Ischinger, the former German ambassador to the US and the new chairman of the Munich Security Conference, said Obama's initial actions suggested "a return to the core values of the west." This included that no one could be convicted without a proper trial, he told German radio Deutschlandfunk on Wednesday.

A Guantanamo prisoner peers through a hole

Many detainees are held in Guantanamo for years without a proper trial

Karsten Voigt, the foreign ministry's coordinator for German-American cooperation, also welcomed Obama's move. He told Deutschlandfunk that Obama was not positioning the US primarily as a military power, but rather wanted to once again strengthen the reputation of the US in the world.

Voigt agreed with German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier that Germany should consider granting asylum to released detainees from Guantanamo.

"One shouldn't refuse this from the outset, but rather remain open for such wishes if they come from Washington," Voigt said.

Of course, the issue was first and foremost a task for the US, he said. But Germany was also interested in a solution, Voigt said. However, former Guantanamo detainees should only be taken in if no legal or security problems resulted, he said.

Interior Minister Schaeuble said a decision on such matters did not rest with Steinmeier, but with the Interior Ministry and the interior ministers of Germany's 16 federal states.

A German government spokesman last week said Germany had not "fully defined its position" on the issue, but favored a "European solution."

Germany obligated to help

The German division of the human rights organization Amnesty International (AI) called on the government to clear the way for former Guantanamo detainees.

Members of Amnesty International wearing Guantanamo-style orange inmate outfits at a protest

Amnesty International has been calling for Guantanamo's closure for years

"I think it would contribute greatly to accelerating the closure if US President Barack Obama had host countries for the prisoners beyond his country," the AI Guantanamo expert Ferdinand Muggenthaler told the news agency AFP.

Muggenthaler said he did not see an imminent threat from the Guantanamo detainees.

He said the discussion involved only few numbers of possible candidates. Since other European countries such as Britain, France and Portugal had signalized willingness to take them in, only "maybe 10" prisoners would come to Germany.

Should Germany in fact take in former detainees, it was important for those concerned to quickly get a secure status, he said.

"That would be a humanitarian gesture," Muggenthaler said.

Spain on Wednesday offered to help President Obama in closing Guantanamo. It would, however, first want to be informed in detail about the legal situation of each of the Guantanamo inmates, Foreign Minister Miguel Angel Moratinos told Punto Radio.

Spain would also want to be informed about "origin of the detention" of the prisoners in order to "assume its responsibility" within the international judicial framework, Moratinos said.

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