France receives first Guantanamo detainee | Europe | News and current affairs from around the continent | DW | 16.05.2009

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France receives first Guantanamo detainee

France has become the first EU nation to take in a former Guantanamo inmate who doesn't have any direct link to the host country.

Guantanamo prisoner behind barbed wire

The fate of many Guantanamo prisoners remains unresolved

An Algerian native was released from Guantanamo Bay prison and transferred to France on Friday after spending seven years behind bars. 42-year-old Lakhdar Boumediene is the first Guantanamo detainee to be granted refuge abroad without having any direct citizenship or residency claim in the host country.

His transfer came after French President Nicolas Sarkozy promised to take in at least one Guantanamo prisoner to help US President Barack Obama fulfil his pledge to close the controversial detention facility by the end of 2009.

Paris announced on May 6 that it was prepared to take in Boumediene and also offered residency to his wife and two children.

"He has been cleared of all charges relative to participation in eventual terrorist activities," a French Foreign Ministry spokesman said.

Guantanamo inmates in kneeling at prison fences

US President Barack Obama has pledged to close Guantanamo

Nervertheless, Boumediene will be subjected to a special visa ruling which will limit where he can travel within the 25-nation passport-free European Schengen zone.

Boumediene was among six Guantanamo inmates arrested in Bosnia in 2001. They were initially charged with plotting to attack the US embassy in Sarajevo, but in November 2008, a US judge cleared five of the six for release after ruling that they had been illegally detained.

The Algerian's release was made possible by a landmark US Supreme Court ruling last June that gave Guantanamo detainees the legal right to challenge their imprisonment.

Europe wary of Guantanamo detainees

Boumediene's transfer to France leaves 240 Guantanamo detainees still facing an uncertain future. Although many European countries consider the prison camp a homegrown US problem, some have offered to take in released inmates under certain conditions.

On May 10, German Interior Minister Wolfgang Schaeuble called on Washington to provide more data on potential transfer candidates.

German Interior Minister Wolfgang Schaeuble

German Interior Minister Wolfgang Schaeuble is wary of taking in Guantanamo detainees

"First, are we sure that these people do not pose a threat? This is the main concern for many citizens here. Second, why can't the United States take them in? And third, do they have a link to Germany?" Schaueble said.

The Guantanamo Bay detention camp, which was established specially for terror suspects in the wake of the 2001 terrorist attacks on New York and Washington, has come under severe fire from human rights groups.

Critics say prisoners were systematically tortured in the camp, describing it as a legal vacuum with inmates classified as "enemy combatants" rather than prisoners of war. According to a 2002 directive by then President George W. Bush, "enemy combatants" are not subject to the Geneva Conventions.

Obama restarts Guantanamo tribunals

The transfer of Boumediene came as US President Barack Obama announced that the controversial tribunals for trying terrorist suspects held at Guantanamo Bay would remain in place. However, the president said new rules would be enacted to enhance the rights of defendants.

"These reforms will begin to restore the commissions as a legitimate forum for prosecution, while bringing them in line with the rule of law," Obama said in a statement.

Barack Obama at a podium with the inscription change we can believe in

Critics accuse Obama of backtracking on campaign promises

Under the proposed changes, the use of evidence obtained through "cruel, inhumane and degrading" interrogation methods would no longer be admitted as evidence.

Defendants would also have more leeway in choosing a defense attorney and would enjoy greater protections if they refused to testify.

Obama's announcement was criticized by rights activists, who accuse him of breaking an earlier campaign promise to end the tribunals.

"The military commissions system is flawed beyond repair," said Kenneth Roth, executive director of Human Rights Watch. "By resurrecting this failed Bush administration idea, President Obama is backtracking dangerously on his reform agenda."

Obama halted the Guantanamo tribunals pending a review after taking office in January. However, he did not rule out the use of a modified system in the future.

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