Berlin divided on taking in Guantanamo detainees

22nd January 2009, Comments 0 comments

Germany, along with the rest of the EU, has repeatedly called for the closure of the camp.

Berlin -- A row broke out in Germany's fractious left-right government Wednesday over whether the country would take in prisoners released from the US base in Guantanamo, Cuba.

Interior Minister Wolfgang Schaeuble said new American President Barack Obama could not expect Germany to accept freed Guantanamo inmates, effectively revoking a recent offer made by the foreign minister.

"Creating Guantanamo was a mistake in the first place, which by the way the administration of George W. Bush wanted to correct," Schaeuble, a member of Chancellor Angela Merkel's conservative Christian Democrats, told the daily Frankfurter Rundschau. "America must deal with the consequences."

Obama ordered prosecutors Wednesday to seek a suspension of military trials at the Guantanamo prison camp in one of his first acts as president.

Military judges are expected to rule on the request later Wednesday.

It could take several months to close down the site, as Obama has pledged, and Washington is expected to ask allies to take in some of the remaining 248 prisoners.

Germany, along with the rest of the European Union, has repeatedly called for the closure of the camp, which is seen as a symbol of American excesses in its "war on terror."

Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier, a Social Democrat, had said in an open letter to Obama this month that Germany would be willing to take in individual detainees from third countries if it helped him close Guantanamo.

Schaeuble's opposition to accepting foreign prisoners could torpedo the overture, however, as the conservative minister pulled rank.

"The foreign minister is the foreign minister,” Schaeuble said. “The interior minister and the federal states have jurisdiction (over whether Germany takes in foreign citizens). You can read that in the residency law."

Germany is facing a general election in September, which is already straining relations between the conservatives and the Social Democrats, traditional rivals who have been yoked together in a "grand coalition" since 2005.

Government spokesman Ulrich Wilhelm waded into the debate Wednesday, saying that Merkel would review any request made by Washington and discuss it personally with Obama.

Schaeuble nevertheless called for those Guantanamo prisoners who had not been charged to be freed.

"Those who come from countries to which they cannot return due to the human rights situation will just have to remain in the US," he said. "I see no reason why someone who is supposed to be too dangerous for America should have to be taken in by an EU country."

Top EU officials are to travel next month to the United States for talks with the Obama administration on what to do with Guantanamo prisoners.


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