Thursday, December 25, 2008

Guantanamo Bay clear-out plea from Barack Obama

Geoff Elliott, Washington correspondent | December 26, 2008

AUSTRALIA has been asked to accept detainees released from Guantanamo Bay when it is shut, plans for which are already under way.

The US State Department confirmed that, over the past 12 months, it had cabled more than 100 countries seeking help to clear out Guantanamo Bay.

The incoming administration of Barack Obama is expecting help with resettling more than 250 detainees still at Guantanamo Bay, some still considered dangerous but many regarded as not being a threat.

Labor has been critical of Guantanamo Bay, saying the post-9/11 detainee camp was "an affront to natural justice and the rule of law". The Rudd Government itself, however, has not pushed the issue too hard since taking office, unlike some of its European counterparts.

Resettlement of detainees could be a hard sell politically for the Rudd Government, but taking a lead role would curry plenty of favour with the incoming Obama administration. Spokesmen for the departments of foreign affairs and immigration declined to comment on whether Australia would be prepared to take Guantanamo detainees.

Already several European powers, looking to turn a new leaf with Washington, are making significant overtures to the incoming Obama administration, saying they are willing to help with resettling detainees. Some 60 of them have already been cleared for release by US authorities but cannot return to their homeland for fear of persecution.

The Bush administration has been making moves to shut Guantanamo Bay for more than a year but found few countries willing to help.
It's unpopularity - and given that many consider Guantanamo Bay a problem of the White House's own making - left the administration with few avenues for international co-operation.

State Department spokesman Sean McCormack said on Tuesday that reports Europe might accept inmates were encouraging and marked "a new attitude" from allies, who rejected similar requests by President George W.Bush.

Defence Secretary Robert Gates, whom president-elect Barack Obama has tapped to continue in the role, this week ordered aides to draw up plans for closing Guantanamo Bay.

Mr Obama has said the facility's closure is a priority and he wants it shut within two years of his taking office on January 20.

Mr Gates wanted to be ready in case Mr Obama decided to take action on Guantanamo Bay soon after assuming office, Pentagon press secretary Geoff Morrell said.

"He has asked his team for a proposal on how to shut it down, what will be required specifically to close it and move the detainees from that facility and at the same time protect the American people from dangerous terrorists," hesaid.

The prison opened in 2002 as a way of holding detainees caught in the war on terror beyond the reach of US courts, where civilian evidentiary rules for detention would apply.

While some detainees have played a central role in al-Qa'ida, such as 9/11 mastermind Khalid Shaikh Mohammed, others have been held for years without charge and without presenting any discernible threat to the US or the West.

Australia's David Hicks was held for five years in Guantanamo before being convicted last year of providing material support for terrorism. He was returned to Australia to serve nine months in an Adelaide jail before being released and placed under a control order, which expired last weekend.

Another Australian detainee, Mamdouh Habib, was released without charge in 2005.

Germany and Portugal have acknowledged they were considering taking detainees, while others have flatly refused.

The Netherlands yesterday ruled out accepting any newly freed inmates.

"If they are not to be tried but cannot return to their own countries, it is first and foremost the responsibility of the country which arrested and imprisoned them, the United States," a Dutch foreign ministry spokesman said.

"The Netherlands will not take in Guantanamo inmates."

Britain has taken back nine detainees who are British nationals and four British residents, and said on Wednesday it would consider any more US requests on a case-by-case basis.

A broad definition in the US of "material support" for terrorism has made it problematic to resettle detainees in the US, creating a legal and political headache for anyone else willing to consider accepting detainees.

The Obama administration is expected to redefine some of the legalities soon after taking office to overcome the hurdles.

Source: The Australian


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