Guantanamo Debate Continues Washington Wants German Help with Two More Prisoners
With a long tussle over Uighur inmates from Guantanamo prison all but laid to rest, the US government has asked Germany for fresh help: What about two non-Uighur inmates? Meanwhile, the Palau solution looks like it benefits the US most of all.
After a surprise decision by the Pacific island nation of Palau to take 17 Uighur inmates, some of whom had seemed destined to resettle in Germany, some politicians in Berlin might have breathed a sigh of relief. Interior Minister Wolfgang Schäuble, who had all along voiced doubts about welcoming the Chinese Muslim separatists, suddenly had nothing to worry about. But his office wasn't celebrating. "Something else will be coming," said one top official.
Two more? Washington still has dozens of inmates to release to willing host nations.
The review is ongoing. Officials are examining material that has been sent by the US. The Interior Ministry has said, however, that the information in their possession is not enough "to give a green light to the acceptance of the two men."
The swift request indicates that the US will keep pushing for German cooperation in its efforts to close the Guantanamo prison. After Germany's critical response to the Uighur resettlement idea, officials in Berlin believe the US is simply trying again. Neither the Interior nor the Foreign Ministries expect Washington to reduce its pressure.
There will be some relief in Berlin that accepting the new inmates may not pose any diplomatic problems from other nations. In the case of the Uighurs, Berlin was wary of incurring the wrath of Beijing, which wants the Chinese Muslim separatists to stand trial on terrorism charges in China.
China repeated its demand on Thursday. Foreign Ministry spokesman Qin Gang insisted that the US had no right to hand terror suspects "over to a third country." The Palau government remained undaunted by the pending diplomatic chill. "We will have to live with the cold wind from China," Palau's Foreign Minister Sandra Pierantozzi, told SPIEGEL ONLINE. Her government has said it would take the Uighurs "on humanitarian grounds," since the US claims the men could not be returned to China.
Four Go to Bermuda
But the Guantanamo-Palau deal is not tied up yet. Four of the 17 inmates, in fact, were sent to Bermuda on Thursday instead of Palau, according to the US Department of Justice. Meanwhile, a delegation of diplomats from Palau is expected in Washington to review remaining Uighur cases. The Palau representatives hope to travel to Guantanamo Bay on Saturday to speak to the men in person. "The final decision on whether or not they come to us has to be taken by the men themselves," said the foreign minister. "We will ask each one." Only then -- and after a medical examination -- will the decision be final.
But Palau has already made arrangements for their arrival. At first the Uighurs will be boarded with families. While in Guantanamo, the delegation wants to establish the professions of the men and what type of work they would seek in their new home. The foreign minister rejected reports that the US was giving a $200 million dollar aid package for accepting the inmates. "That package was agreed to long before we spoke about the Guantanamo detainees," Pierantozzi said.
The US has, however, promised financial help for each prisoner. To cover integration problems, room and board, and medical costs, according to Pierantozzi, the US and Palau agreed on a sum of $85,000. After arrival they're supposed to receive a sort of residency authorization for the island, because the constitution forbids full naturalization. "But they will enjoy the full rights of any citizen," said Pierantozzi.
It isn't clear whether the Uighurs and their lawyers will agree to the deal, however. The inmates' lawyers this week made their first direct appeal to Berlin for resettlement in Germany. Germany would be "optimal" for the Uighurs, they claimed, because they could join a large Uighur community in Munich.
The Palau idea could accordingly rouse the lawyers' skepticism. The island is under full military control of the United States. Officials in Palau have said Washington would take care of "security" for the Uighurs -- which doesn't leave out the possibility of surveillance. For the US, however, the solution would be ideal. They would be out of the country, but the US would still have the possibility to exert some control over them.
The Uighurs have spent seven years in a military prison at Guantanamo Bay, and now they stand to be shifted to another tropical island, where they would live with limited potential to leave and a high likelihood of being watched by the US military. Pierantozzi says any trips abroad would have to be approved by Washington.
Releasing the Uighurs to the paradise island of Palau, in other words, looks ideal mainly for the United States.