May 4, 2009 -- US President Barack Obama's request that Germany accept up to 10 prisoners from the Guantanamo prison camp has triggered a political debate in Berlin. Chancellor Merkel's party says it is America's problem to solve.Germany's governing coalition has found a number of issues to bicker about in recent months. From family policy to finding a strategy for saving German carmaker Opel, Chancellor Angela Merkel's Christian Democrats (CDU) and her coalition partners, the Social Democrats, both appear to be looking ahead to the European elections in June and the general elections in the autumn.
The latest cause for conflict was delivered over the weekend by the US government of President Barack Obama. According to a SPIEGEL report, confirmed on Saturday by the Interior Ministry in Berlin, the US has sent the German government a list of Guantanamo prisoners it would like Germany to consider taking once they are set free.
Information obtained by SPIEGEL indicates that the list includes 10 of the 50 total inmates who are not considered to be dangerous and cannot be sent back to their home countries despite the fact that they face no charges by the US government.
Germany has long been expecting such a request and the debate over how to respond fractured along party lines long ago, with Merkel's CDU opposed to taking Guantanamo prisoners and the SPD in favor. The US request has now heated up the debate.
"In my opinion, the responsibility still lies with the US," Wolfgang Bosbach, the deputy floor leader of the CDU, told the newspaper Berliner Zeitung. "Germany didn't set up Guantanamo and didn't operate it either." He also wondered why innocent prisoners weren't released long ago.
Niels Annen, an SPD parliamentarian and foreign policy expert, responded to Bosbach by saying the sheer existance of Guantanamo was creating problems for Germany abroad. Taking Guantanamo prisoners, he told the paper, "is also in Germany's interest because we too are being held responsible, in Afghanistan for example, for the failed policies of former US President George W. Bush. We all have a significant interest in the closure of Guantanamo."
President Obama entered the White House in January pledging to close down Guantanamo within a year. According to US Attorney General Eric Holder, the prison now holds 241 inmates, though the debate over how to deal with those prisoners still deemed dangerous has yet to be resolved. The Obama administration has recently indicated that it may continue the Bush-era practice of trying such inmates in front of controversial military tribunals.
France and Portugal have both indicated a willingness to accept some of the non-dangerous inmates set for release. For Germany to do the same, interior ministers from the country's 16 states would have to grant their approval.