Germany has formally agreed to take in two prisoners to be released soon from the US Guantanamo Bay detention camp for suspected terrorists on Cuba, after agonizing for several years over a US request.
Germany will accept inmates despite doubts
The German Interior Minister Thomas de Maiziere on Wednesday officially announced that Berlin had agreed to US requests to give new homes to two men accused of being terrorists and who cannot be sent to their home countries because of the risk of torture.
"After an in-depth review and in close cooperation with the chancellor, the foreign minister, state interior ministers and the United States, I have decided that Germany is prepared to accept two inmates from the Guantanamo detention camp," de Maiziere told a press conference in the German capital.
De Maiziere said that two of Germany's 16 states, Hamburg and Rhineland Palatinate, had given the go-ahead for each of them to accommodate one of the prisoners released from the US Guantanamo Bay facility.
Germany has an obligation to help, the interior minister said
The United States has been in talks with the German interior ministry for many months about the release.
Three offered, two taken
Washington had initially nominated three captives who had been "cleared for release" to be resettled in Germany. De Maiziere, however, turned down the third man, saying, "I was not totally convinced this one posed no danger whatever to the security of Germany."
Monika Lueke, the general-secretary of the German office of the human rights group Amnesty International, told Deutsche Welle that, until now, Berlin has been reluctant to take any prisoners.
"We very much welcome this announcement because it is a step that has been overdue for a long time. The German government is among the last of the big European governments to support the US president in closing Guantanamo," Lueke said.
Germany prepared to help close the camp down
Currently there are still 181 prisoners at the camp, and at least 32 cannot be sent back to their home countries for fear of persecution.
Finding new homes for inmates has been slow
So far, US President Barack Obama has released 60 inmates, and of those, 33 have been sent to third countries, including France, Switzerland, Belgium, Ireland, Spain, Portugal, Hungary, Slovakia, Bulgaria, Albania and Georgia. Other countries have also agreed to take prisoners.
Critics in Germany have expressed concerns that the former Guantanamo inmates pose a security threat and could radicalize German Moslems, who make up about five percent of Germany's population. But Interior Minister de Maiziere has argued successfully that Germany has an obligation to help.
"The German government maintains its position of supporting the United States in its effort to close the Guantanamo detention center. The government has always been critical of the camp, and so we see a responsibility to help close it down," he said.
At the press conference announcement, de Maiziere told the media that the names, origins and future homes of the two inmates would remain confidential to guarantee them privacy and to ease their reintegration into society.
They are expected to arrive in Germany within the next two months.
Author: Gregg Benzow (dpa/AFP)
Editor: Michael Lawton