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Closing Guantanamo

DW staff (th)December 22, 2008

Germany is considering granting asylum to prisoners being held at Guantanamo Bay, a government spokesman said Monday. The move has been welcomed by the United States as it works to close the controversial prison camp.

graphic of Obama, a US flag and Guantanamo
Guantanamo has undermined America's international imageImage: AP

Thomas Steg, German deputy government spokesman, said on Monday, Dec 22 Germany strongly backed Obama's plans to shutter the detention facility and said Berlin was assessing the possibility of accepting inmates who declined to return to their home countries.

"In our view Guantanamo must be closed on legal and humanitarian grounds, in terms of international law and human rights, and for moral reasons," Steg told reporters in Berlin.

Steg emphasized that it is up to the US to find a place for inmates it did not want to accept and who could not be returned to their home countries.

"We would need to, and want to, examine this issue when the United States has made clear what its specific plans and timeline are," Steg said.

"If we begin to review such closure plans and take a stance, then it can only be in a European context based on a discussion with all member states," he said, adding that Germany would reject any "side deals, swaps or conditions" put forward by Washington linked to handing over Guantanamo prisoners.

US hails EU acceptance of prisoners

The US said on Monday it welcomed moves by European nations to take in prisoners from the controversial prison camp which has prompted worldwide criticism of what are considered aggressive detention practicies and which has opened the US to allegations of torture.

Detainees at Guantanamo Bay
Guantanamo has come to symbolize aggressive detention practicesImage: AP

An opening from Germany and other European countries to take prisoners marked "positive steps forward" by governments that had been reluctant to help out in the past, US State Department spokesman Sean McCormack said.

"Many of these countries have previously been unwilling to work with us to either resettle or to, in some way, detain these individuals under circumstances where they won't pose a threat to others," McCormack said.

Hamburg willing to take in prisoners

US President-elect Barack Obama made it clear last week that he wants to shutter the detention facility in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, which holds 255 men arrested on suspicion of fighting for al-Qaeda or the Taliban.

Yet many of the men have languished in the detention center of the US Naval Base for years without being charged. About 50 are now thought to be innocent, but have not been released because they would face torture or death if sent back to their countries of origin. Yet many do not want to live in the United States.

Rights groups have calls on EU countries to offer asylum to Guantanamo detainees. German Chancellor Angela Merkel has long publicly advocated closing the camp for terror suspects, situated at a US navy base in Cuba.

Symbolbild Obama Guantanamo USA
Rights groups have welcomed Obama's plans to shutter GuantanamoImage: AP/DW

In a surprise move, Hamburg's interior minister Christoph Ahlhaus signaled on Monday that his state might be willing to take in Guantanamo prisoners. Ahlhaus told the Hamburger Abendblatt newspaper that prisoners who were shown to be innocent should be given the option of coming to Germany.

Germany not "dumping ground"

Germans have been particularly interested in the plight of the Uighurs, a Muslim minority in Central Asia. Germany has a small Uighur community, many of whom live in Munich.

Hamburg's Ahlhaus and fellow Christian Democrat Guenter Nooke, the government's human rights envoy, are among the first high-ranking German politician to publicly call for Germany to consider taking in some of Guantanamo prisoners.

Even so, both politicians have been careful to say that Germany should not become a dumping ground for unwanted prisoners.

Ruprecht Polenz, chair of the foreign relations committee in the Bundestag, pointed out that just because a country wants to "get rid of someone" does not mean that person would automatically qualify for German asylum. Yet it could be enough if the Guantanamo prisoner had previously lived in Germany, Polenz said.