The World from Berlin: Germany's Move to Take Guantanamo Inmates Slammed as 'Symbolic'

Following months of deliberation and US persuasion, Germany on Wednesday agreed to take in two inmates from the US military prison at Guantanamo Bay. German commentators slam Berlin's decision, saying that it was too little, too late.

Scores of Guantanamo detainees are still locked up. Germany will offer a home to two inmates. Zoom
AP

Scores of Guantanamo detainees are still locked up. Germany will offer a home to two inmates.

It was back in 2009 that the US government first asked Germany to open its doors to inmates from the US military prison in Guantanamo Bay. After a lengthy pause for thought, German officials have now responded, saying that it will take in two men. Both individuals spent nine years imprisoned at the US's notorious offshore prison, but neither face criminal charges.

The two men will be anonymously settled in the states of Hamburg and Rhineland-Palatinate, Interior Minister Thomas de Maizière said on Wednesday. He added that Germany would not offer homes to any further inmates.

Opposition from right-wing politicians has long put the brakes on Germany's decision. Some members of Chancellor Angela Merkel's Christian Democratic Union (CDU) have insisted that the US should unravel the Guantanamo problem on its own, stressing the former inmates pose a security risk for Germany.

Fears Played Down

Such fears were played down by de Maizière who said the two men had been carefully screened: "We are not going to bring terrorists into our country," he said.

The US officially welcomed the news. "We greatly appreciate Germany's decision to resettle these two detainees," State Department spokesman Mark Toner said. "This humanitarian gesture is a strong signal of Germany's commitment to assist the United States in closing the Guantanamo Bay detention facility."

In 2006, Berlin approved the return of one Guantanamo Bay inmate, German-born Turkish national Murat Kurnaz. But last year it rejected a US call to take in Chinese Uighur detainees, arguing that they had not been given enough information on the individual cases.

France, Spain, Italy and Portugal have already taken in former Guantanamo inmates. US government figures from early May, show that 181 detainees remain at Guantanamo Bay, including dozens who have been cleared for release.

Commentators reviewed the government's decision on Thursday, many voicing loud criticism of what they see as a weak gesture on the part of Germany.

The left-leaning Die Tageszeitung writes:

"A number of the prisoners cannot return to their country of origin without putting their lives at risk. The Chancellor, who was late to add her voice to the chorus of criticism of Guantanamo, did not offer to help out Obama. That was partly due to her party colleagues who continued to fan fears of a terrorist threat associated with the former prisoners. They conveniently overlooked the fact that the eligible prisoners had been approved for release by the new US government, following years of checks."

"De Maizière's announcement follows extensive research by the government, including a trip by the Interior Ministry and the Federal Criminal Police Office to Guantanamo in March this year. Despite this safeguard, a number of Christian Democrat-led states have declared that they do not want to risk taking in former inmates. This shows how effective these security experts are at what they do best: spreading fear."

The Rhein Zeitung, from one of the regions to offer a home to the former Guantanamo inmates, writes:

"The inmates that we are now talking about have, after close scrutiny, been shown not to be terrorists. They are among the many Guantanamo prisoners who were in the wrong place at the wrong time. Many of them were handed over by money-driven bounty hunters. Others mistakenly got involved in the fighting. It is a humanitarian gesture to offer such people a new homeland. They have earned the chance to start a whole new life. The fact that hardly any country wants to take in the former Guantanamo inmates is linked to irrational fears. Although the US has treated the innocent inmates unfairly, they are being shipped off to other countries like lepers. Even Barack Obama has not managed to inject some degree of justice."

The left-leaning Berliner Zeitung writes:

"Federal Interior Minister Thomas de Maizière (CDU) said that Germany would take in Guantanamo inmates, and, while announcing his decision, he looked like he was owed praise for his generosity. In fact the opposite is the case. Germany, with a population of 82 million, is taking in two former inmates who have been declared above suspicion by modern American interrogation techniques. Albania, with some three million inhabitants, also allowed an inmate into the country. This is an embarrassing numerical imbalance. But it shows how the government sees humanitarianism in relation to security interests: namely, it is only of symbolic importance."

The center-left Süddeusche Zeitung writes:

"Guantanamo does not just represent a huge terror and justice issue problem for the US, it also shows the mercilessness with which America's allies are responding to Washington's greatest legal error."

"The German government is looking particularly bad in this respect. ... Germany has long hesitated to help disentangle the complex tangle. Now the federal government has moved on the issue, but was extremely late. Most of the inmates proved innocent have already been deported to other countries, where they are settling into their new identities. Germany had many reasons for not building bridges: domestic policy constraints, an obsession with security, legal excess. Now the government is contenting itself with a symbolic step to take in the two men. It will hardly make a difference."

-- Jess Smee

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