The World from Berlin 'Why Can't Guantanamo's Inmates Stay in America?'

Politicians and journalists across Europe agree with US President Obama that the Guantanamo Bay detention camp should close. But the legal details of what to do with the remaining prisoners are difficult. German media commentators debate what to do with the inmates.


Barack Obama's first big move on Tuesday as president -- a request to halt military trials at the US naval station at Guantanamo Bay, with the idea of closing the prison there -- has played well around the world. European leaders and newspaper commentators have sung more or less with one voice about a return to American ideals of justice and freedom. Obama is expected on Thursday to file a direct order to close the camp within a year. But the details of shuttering Guantanamo will prove stickier than a few deft legal moves in Washington -- they will need diplomacy, and a degree of international cooperation that was unknown by the end of the Bush years.

They can't stay in Cuba.
DPA

They can't stay in Cuba.

The talk this week in Europe has centered around a group of Guantanamo inmates who have been "cleared for release" by the Pentagon, but have no place to go. Human rights groups as well as US policy hold that Washington should not send prisoners "home" to countries where they stand a reasonable chance of tortureopk -- China, Algeria, Libya, Uzbekistan. Never mind that torture was probably committed by US soldiers in Guantanamo: Even Bush said he wanted to close the prison for humanitarian reasons, but said he was hamstrung by legal considerations.

Since December, when President-elect Obama extended an olive branch to irritated European allies and asked them to absorb some of these prisoners -- on the condition that America would, too -- a debate has simmered in Germany. Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier said in January that Munich might be a reasonable place for 17 Chinese Uighur minority prisoners to settle, since Munich has the largest Chinese Muslim community outside China. But a conservative rival, Interior Minister Wolfgang Schäuble, says the prisoners are America's problem -- any Guantanamo inmates who can't go home "out of human rights considerations" will simply "need to remain in the United States."

On Thursday morning, German papers are reacting with unanimous goodwill to the news that Guantanamo might close, and debating Berlin's responsibility to help.

The Financial Times Deutschland writes:

"Barack Obama made many promises during his campaign for president, most of them aimed at Americans, but one promise was directed at the wider world: The prison at Guantanamo, which had become a symbol for a violation of human rights, would be closed. There may be no other question that has united Europeans, Asians and Africans so readily as the judgment that the Guantanamo prison represents a blemish on America's reputation."

"Support for the United States, an ally,will be credible only when Germany offers to accept potential 'instigators' who have committed no provable crime. This may even involve corralling police and constitutional protection powers to keep an eye on the former inmates. But Germany cannot avoid the investment if it takes its own commitment to human rights seriously."

The center-right Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung writes:

"Guantanamo, the prison in Cuba, stands for the dark days of the war against terrorism and a practice that contradicts America's legal foundations and traditions … (But) closing the prison will be less easy than many people have suspected over the last few months. One question is what to do with the roughly 60 inmates who are now ready for release. No nation has yet made a full-throated offer to take any of them in -- but the German foreign minister says Germany should. Why? Does he want to ingratiate himself to Obama? If these prisoners represent a security risk, they have nothing to seek in Germany; if they're innocent, why can't they stay in America?"

The center-left Süddeutsche Zeitung argues:

"It's a first step back toward the rule of law: Barack Obama has moved to halt the military trials in Guantanamo. The new US president needs to go further, though. The United States must put suspected terrorists before a proper criminal court. Prisoners against whom no crime can be proved need to go free. Then the prison at Guantanamo must close. This is the only way America can find its way back to the values that were betrayed under President Bush out of a mixture of hubris and fear. Then America will regain its preferred reputation as the land of democracy, freedom and justice."

"The international community must find answers to the question of what to do with the (cleared) Guantanamo prisoners. The current rules governing prisoners of war don't fit. They apply to combatants who fight for a given state. Al-Qaida militants are free radicals, and they pose not just legal, but also human rights problems."

"As long as there are no solutions, anyone who is not provably guilty must go free, even if he might be dangerous later. That is the price of the rule of law."

The conservative daily Die Welt writes:

"Obama's intention to close Guantanamo is right. The prison is not just condemned by critics around the world; even the American Supreme Court found the indefinite detention of 'foreign fighters' anti-constitutional. To distance himself from George W. Bush's policies it's been necessary for Obama … to close the prison, where a total of around 250 people remain. Many are apparently innocent. Some inmates, according to the Pentagon's own confession, have been tortured. But what seems overdue morally will run into legal problems, and will require from Obama his first show of strength."

"The president of the United States has responsibility for American prisoners. As long as Obama has made no formal request for help (as president), any offer to take in prisoners is just activism. But in the end the Europeans, who have long called for an end to Guantanamo, will have to shoulder some of the burden of its closure."

Finally, SPIEGEL ONLINE writes:

"No matter how the new government deals with the difficult legacy of the Bush team, it will have to find the delicate balance between the rule of law and the demands of a population whose soul is still deeply wounded by the terror attacks of 9/11. If it is too soft in its handling of the prisoners, the Obama administration will be damaged. At the same time, it is also being forced to work with investigative evidence that never would have been allowed in a trial that adhered to the rule of law. The fact that many of the defendants are now using their trials as a political stage will only serve to complicate the situation."

"Tuesday's motion is a nice but largely symbolic act. It has been rightly praised around the world. But now Obama must prove that he is serious about the promises he made during the campaign. Even before his inauguration, this smart president understood it wouldn't be easy -- and he already began managing expectations. There is absolutely no chance that Guantanamo will close during his first 100 days in office, he said a few days ago. For now, he has 120 days to present his plan -- and it won't just be his supporters who are counting those days."

-- SPIEGEL ONLINE Staff

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