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Australia Considers US Request to Resettle Guantanamo Inmates

  • Phil Mercer

Australia is considering a request from the United States to re-settle detainees from Guantanamo Bay. The government in Canberra promised to carefully scrutinize the request, but officials say it is unlikely to be accepted.

Deputy Prime Minister Julia Gillard says the United States asked Australia and Britain to accept inmates from the Guantanamo Bay prison. The U.S. wants help from its allies to enable President-elect Barack Obama to keep his election promise to close the controversial prison at the U.S. navy base in Cuba.

The prison, which opened in 2002, shortly after U.S.-led forces invaded Afghanistan, houses suspected combatants captured in the fight against terrorism. About 255 men are still held in the prison. Sixty have been cleared for release but can not be repatriated because of fears they will face torture or persecution if they are sent home.

Although the government in Canberra is considering the request, it seems unlikely any detainees will be offered a home. Australia turned down a similar appeal from the U.S. to accept a small group of former terrorism suspects a year ago.

An Australian man, David Hicks, was the first detainee held at Guantanamo Bay to be convicted of supporting terrorism. He was allowed to return home in May 2007 after pleading guilty and served a nine-month prison sentence in Australia.

Another Australian, Mamdouh Habib, was released from the U.S. prison without charge in 2005.

Speaking in Sydney, his wife, Maha, says that other detainees should be sent back to their own countries, and not to Australia.

"They say they want to bring these 60 or 200 - how many people - from Guantanamo Bay," she said. "Why not take them back to their country and if they think they are going to be [a] risk or are not going to be protected in their country, America's got the power, they can make an order, make an order on each government to protect them. Why bring them to Australia?"

Some European nations have expressed willingness to resettle Guantanamo Bay inmates, including France, Germany, Portugal and Switzerland.

An Australian opposition politician says the government should not accept any of the detainees, because there are many other more deserving people already seeking to enter the country.

Australia is a close ally of the United States. Although it has pulled its combat forces out of Iraq, Canberra remains committed to the campaign in Afghanistan.