Their arrival in Germany is certainly not the end of US President Barack Obama's efforts to close down the Guantanamo prison. But the transfer of two ex-prisoners to the country on Thursday is likely to end at times contentious discussions between Washington and Berlin over the future of inmates no longer deemed to be a threat.
On Thursday, two former Guantanamo prisoners arrived in Germany, where it is hoped they can restart their lives after years of incarceration.
A spokesman for the Hamburg government confirmed that Ahmed Mohammed al-Shurfa, a stateless man of Palestinian descent born in Saudi Arabia, had arrived in the northern German port city.
The spokesperson said that the 34-year-old would first be brought to a medical clinic, where he will be given an extensive check-up over the next few days. Officials said the goal was to help reintegrate the former prisoner into society, with the hope that he will ultimately become self-sufficient. The Americans arrested al-Shurfa in Afghanistan in 2001 and he has been imprisoned at Guantanamo since 2002.
Later on Thursday, a second former Guantanamo prisoner -- 36-year-old Mahmoud Salim al-Ali of Syria -- arrived in the state of Rhineland-Palatinate in central-western Germany, an official with the state's Interior Ministry said. "According to our knowledge, he does not pose any threat," a spokesman said. "We haven't brought a sleeper into our country," he said, referring to the phenomenon of potential terrorists like the 9/11 celll that infiltrate society and appear to be normal residents before they are activated.
Earlier this year, Germany said it was prepared to host two former inmates from the Guantanamo prison. German Interior Minister Thomas de Maizière said the decision had been made for "humanitarian reasons." "I'm not only the federal interior minister, but also a human being and a Christian," the politician, who is a member of Chancellor Angela Merkel's conservative Christian Democratic Union (CDU) party, said as he announced his decision in July. The decision had been contingent on German states volunteering to take in the former prisoners, who in many instances couldn't return to their countries of origin. Both Hamburg, which is a city-state, and Rhineland-Palatinate agreed.
"We all need to have a paramount interest in having these prisoners be able to quickly find their way in Germany and to integrate into our way of life," Wolfgang Bosbach of the CDU, who is also the chairman of the German parliament's domestic affairs committee, said shortly after the former inmates' arrival. Bosbach said he believed that the responsible authorities in the states would likely provide intensive assistance for the men during their first few months in their new home. He said the quieter this process was, the easier it would be for the former prisoners to acclimate.
US officials claim the men are no longer suspected of terrorist activity and say they pose no danger to society. German officials said they had also requested additional information from European security authorities. And at the end of March, German representatives interviewed the men at Guantanamo before a final decision was taken over whether to allow them to come to Germany. In the case of a third prisoner, German officials rejected the request to allow him to be transferred to Germany because the government could not conclusively confirm that he didn't represent any threat or danger, de Maizière said in the summer. The interior minister said Germany did not plan to take in any other Guantanamo prisoners and that the government would respond negatively to any additional requests.
Men Could Visit US
After the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks in New York and Washington, the United States detained numerous suspected terrorists from around the world at Guantanamo, holding many for an indefinite period without trial. The camp was established in 2002. Around 780 people were held there for a time without being given any recourse to justice. Currently, around 180 inmates are still being held.
President Barack Obama said in early 2009, just after entering office, that he wanted to close Guantanamo, a problem he inherited from George W. Bush. But that still hasn't happened because he has had difficulty finding countries willing to take in prisoners who have been deemed safe but cannot return to their home nations for a number of reasons including the risk of torture or death. A number of European Union member states have recently taken in former inmates.
The debate over releasing Guantanamo prisoners in Germany first became serious last year when the US negotiated with Berlin to take in Uighur inmates from China. Munich is home to the world's largest Uighur community outside China. In the end, though, the governments were unable to reach an agreement.
The final decision to take in the two men who arrived on Thursday was likewise not without controversy. In the end, the German government demanded written guarantees from Washington that the US government would not permit any individuals deemed a threat to national security of the United States to "enter the country." Put more simply, it means the inmates released and sent to Germany are not dangerous and could even enter the US as tourists.
dsl -- with wire reports
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