BERLIN, June 15, 2009 — -- A Guantanamo Bay inmate said he wants to live in Germany because he has "good memories" of the country. So far, though, Germany's Interior Ministry has no plans to accept a request from Washington to take two prisoners. Berlin fears the men, who allegedy trained at terror camps, could be dangerous.
Europe initially cheered President Obama's pledge to close down the prison camp at Guantanamo which, for many, had come to represent the disrespect for human rights of the George W. Bush era. But when it comes to the thorny question of where the Guantanamo prisoners can resettle, the enthusiasm has faded.
Officials in the Czech Republic, currently the rotating president of the European Union, said earlier this month that the 27-nation bloc might admit "several dozen" prisoners, with decisions being left to each country. Germany, however, is digging its heels in. SPIEGEL reported over the weekend that, after reviewing information supplied about the former terror suspects by U.S. officials, the German Interior Ministry has ruled out for the time being the possibility of taking in the men out of concern they might be dangerous. The German government, however, still hasn't officially responded to the request to resettle the Syrian and Tunisian.
Meanwhile, U.S. pressure for cooperation is running high and within Germany the discussion rolls on. The Financial Times Deutschland reported Monday that the Tunisian Guantanamo inmate Rafiq Bin Bashir al-Hami hopes to return to the country. "He has good memories of his times in Germany," his lawyer Mark Denbeaux told the newspaper.
Hami reportedly lived in Germany under a false name between 1996 and 1999. During that time he said he worked for a restaurant and a cleaning company. A report in the newsweekly Focus claims he was known to the authorities in Frankfurt for drug crimes and attempted fraud in an asylum application.
Terror Camp Allegations
Following his time in Germany, Hami moved to Pakistan and Afghanistan. According to the files the U.S. has collected, he attended a paramilitary training camp -- a claim he disputes. They also state that he moved to Kandahar in Afghanistan in 2001 to study Islam. During interrogations at Guantanamo, al-Hami admitted to having received weapons training in the al-Qaeda camp Khalden. Later, though, he retracted the statement, saying he had been forced to attend the camp by the Taliban.
Information in the U.S. files indicate that the second man, a Syrian identified as Abd al-Rahim Abd al-Rassa Janku, had traveled to Afghanistan and, according to his testimony, was forced by the Taliban to take part in 18 days of weapons training at a terror camp. He claims that when he attempted to leave the camp, the Taliban suspected he was a U.S. spy and stuck him in a prison in Kandahar where he claims he was tortured for months. He has been identified in a video found in the rubble of the house of al-Qaeda military chief Mohammed Atef. There he appeared alongside Ramzi Binalshibh, who played a key role in planning the 9/11 attacks.
Berlin's skepticism about the two men echoes its recent reluctance to take in a group of Uighurs, members of China's Muslim ethnic minority. German Interior Minister Wolfgang Schäuble then outlined tough criteria for accepting the men, asking why the inmates couldn't be taken in by the U.S. or other countries. He also pushed for proof that they weren't dangerous, and that they had a personal connection to Germany. Finally, he insisted that Germany was unable to accept people who couldn't travel to the U.S. on a simple tourist visa.
[Four Uighurs have since been transferred to Bermuda.]
But with about 250 detainees still held at the U.S. base on Cuba -- some without any charges held against them -- the clock is ticking for Obama, who vowed to shut the controversial facility by January 2010. Many of the inmates have already been cleared for release, but U.S. officials are struggling to find countries that will take them in. There is also considerable resistance at home to moving them to the U.S.
jas/spiegel -- and wire reports