The World from Berlin Germany Has a 'Responsibility' to Help Guantanamo Inmates

It is widely expected that President-elect Barack Obama will move to close the Guantanamo prison camp after taking office. In Germany, editorialists argue the country should accept innocent prisoners from the US enclave in Cuba in order to expedite its closing.

Two weeks after Portugal's foreign minister said his country would be willing to give residency permits to innocent prisoners held at the Guantanamo Bay prison camp for suspected terrorists, German officials are saying they would consider the same move.

Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier has ordered his staff to study the legal implications of taking in former prisoners who have become stateless or run the risk of prosecution, torture or execution if they return to their home countries.

Guantanamo 2009? Only if Europe is willing to provide asylum for former prisoners.

Guantanamo 2009? Only if Europe is willing to provide asylum for former prisoners.

Foto: AP

From almost the day it opened, Germany has been critical of the prison camp, which was established by the Bush administration and has become synonymous with a blatant disregard for basic civil rights and international law. In 2006, German Chancellor Angela Merkel personally called for its closure.

Nevertheless, it's now apparent that the German government either allowed or tolerated the use of German airports and air space for "extraordinary renditions" -- missions that illegally transported suspected terrorists either to Guantanamo, CIA black sites or to other countries where they could be tortured into issuing confessions.

Against this backdrop, German papers on Tuesday are saying the country has a moral obligation to take in Guantanamo prisoners. Some note that with his timing, Steinmeier -- who is running against Merkel to become the country's next chancellor with the left-leaning Social Democrats -- is possibly acting more out of political opportunism than personal or professional conviction.

The left-wing daily Die Tageszeitung writes:

"Germany and other European countries must take their co-responsibility seriously for the victims of the Bush administration's violations of international law and human rights. Of the 255 prisoners still at Guantanamo, there is sufficient evidence to prosecute and incarcerate a maximum of 50. Another 50 have already been determined innocent, and another 150 are almost certainly not guilty. But the vast majority of these 200 prisoners, some of whom have been languishing for seven years despite not having committed any crime, can't return to their home countries because they are threatened with arrest, torture or execution."

"Germany has a special responsibility for taking these people in. At least 275 flights taking prisoners to Guantanamo, black sites or torture centers either took off, landed or flew through German airspace since the terror attacks of Sept. 11. None of this would have been possible without the knowledge, support or at the very least tolerance of the German government. Claims to the contrary by German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier and former Foreign Minister Joschka Fischer are implausible."

The center-right Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung writes:

"Some may get a creepy feeling about the idea that former prisoners from Guantanamo might be resettled in Germany. But these prisoners should be considered innocent until proven guilty, and that's why we should consider helping the Americans remove the moral burden of the prison camp. The question that remains is: Which prisoners could the Germans take? There has been much talk of the Uighurs … but the question is whether Berlin is ready to face the outrage of China again. In Beijing, there is a general suspicion that the Muslim Uighurs are terrorists. Germany would have to defend itself against charges that it provides a 'safe haven for terrorists.' But even if each inmate is carefully checked and deemed safe, it would still be an act of European solidarity for other EU countries to help resettle the Uighurs."

The center-left Süddeutsche Zeitung writes:

"Yes, it was the United States that led the Iraq war. Yes, it was the US that created the abhorrent prison camp at Guantanamo, Cuba, where some innocent people were imprisoned as terror suspects. And yes, it is the responsibility of Germany and other European countries to provide these people with a home if the US finally closes Guantanamo."

"For years the German government demanded that the camp be closed. If it can speed up the closure by taking in homeless and stateless people, then it should. The government should also explain to its skeptical citizens that there won't be a flood of evil jihadists coming to the country as a result. Security authorities will ensure that none of the former inmates who arrive in Germany are terrorists. Besides, after the disreputable way the government handled former Guantanamo inmate Murat Kurnaz, it has good reason to offer an act of humanity."

"Finally, it would help Obama to make a clean break from the Bush administration's practices. The Iraq war and its aftermath have more than strained US-European ties. A gesture from Europe could foster new trust in trans-Atlantic relations."

The Financial Times Deutschland is similarly critical:

"When Steinmeier was chief of staff in the Chancellery in 2002, he prevented Murat Kurnaz's return to Germany. Now he is acting as if he's at the vanguard of humanitarianism. In the Chancellery it was his job to minimize security risks -- and Kurnaz was still a suspected terrorist at the time. Today, however, as foreign minister and candidate for chancellor, he wants to send a positive signal to President-elect Obama, who wants to close Guantanamo -- and to invest a little in advance to improve trans-Atlantic relations."

"The political gain that could come from the offer is attractive. Steinmeier is suggesting that only those prisoners should be taken on who are making it difficult to close the camp because even though they are deemed to present no danger, they cannot be sent back to their countries of origin. The cost of this symbolic gesture would be relatively low -- especially compared to something like making a greater military contribution in Afghanistan, a demand Obama is expected to make of the Europeans."

"But it would be an illusion to believe that in this manner Germany can pave the path for Guantanamo's closure. The real problem must be solved by the Americans -- and that's the question of what will happen to the prisoners who actually are dangerous."

The conservative daily Die Welt criticizes Steinmeier for his apparent partisan politics and for what it describes as the "third step before the first," arguing that Obama still isn't president of the US:

"First, Obama has to be inaugurated on Jan. 20. Then the new administration has to decide what to do with the camp -- and that's a decision that is going to be far more difficult than anyone here can possibly imagine. It's only then that a request will come from America that we need to respond to."

"Steinmeier is running as the Social Democrats' chancellor candidate, and the party wants to make clear before year's end that it should be credited with any peace-promoting initiatives. But this blatant gesture doesn't demonstrate much diplomatic deftness. After all, the German left's joy over the new president and the new America they mistakenly believe he represents, is misplaced. Barack Obama is going to demand a lot more from Europe and Germany than his predecessor did."

-- Daryl Lindsey, 2 p.m. CET
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