View Full Version : U.S. diplomat: Not easy to get out of Gitmo

27-06-06, 13:10

crosenberg@MiamiHerald.com (crosenberg@MiamiHerald.com)

GUANTANAMO BAY NAVY BASE, Cuba -- An undisclosed number of countries are still disavowing captives held here, and some detainees come from nations whose human rights record make repatriation agreements unlikely, a senior State Department official said today, describing the struggle to thin the population at this offshore detention center.
''We want to get out of the Guantánamo business if we can, while continuing to protect ourselves and protect others,'' said State Department legal advisor John Bellinger, describing the ongoing ''conundrum'' of trying to repatriate or get third-country asylum for some 100 captives here.
The Bush administration set up this detention and interrogation center in early 2002 for war-on-terror captives flown in from Afghanistan -- and now is awaiting a U.S. Supreme Court ruling on whether its plan to try 10 or more of some 450 captives here is constitutional.
If the war court is upheld in a decision expected this week, Bellinger said, the Bush administration would press forward with more war-crimes trials against more captives here.
Meantime, Bellinger told reporters in a conference call from Washington, D.C., U.S. diplomats are still seeking agreements with dozens of countries to either take on the humane detention of their nationals here -- or let them go while seeking assurances from their native countries that they won't threaten U.S. soldiers, security or American targets.
''The difficulties with Guantánamo begin with the fact that a number of the countries actually deny that these individuals are even nationals of their countries,'' said Bellinger, not disclosing the number. Countries that disavow their detainees here ''question their nationality,'' he said.
Also, he said, China has been disqualified from taking back more than a dozen ethnic Uighur Muslims of Chinese citizenship for fear they would be tortured if repatriated.
Syria and an undisclosed number of other countries are likewise considered by Washington to be ineligible to take back captives held here for four-plus years -- because those countries' human rights records suggest they might be tortured if returned.
The United States has returned one detainee to Iran, but continues to detain two dozen Algerians here plus Iraqis, Libyans, Palestinians, Somalis, Sudanese and Uzbeks -- men from countries that are either too unstable or have human rights records that would suggest the U.S. is unable or unwilling to negotiate their return.
Some of the men held here from those countries actually were long-term British residents who had never obtained citizenship there.
Now, Bellinger said, the U.S. government has for about a month been talking to the British about the fate of former residents, some whose residencies expired while held here.
''The British government has approached us to talk about the handful of detainees who are British residents, as opposed to British nationals,'' he said. ``I would not say we are in negotiations with them, I would say we are in discussions.''
State Department officials are currently negotiating individual repatriation agreements for more than 100 of the 450 captives here who have been found by Defense Department panels to be eligible for transfer to lock-up in their home countries, or outright release.
Bellinger and another State Department attorney, Sam Whitten, acting head of the department's War Crimes Office, would not quantify how many of the 100-plus to be released required continued detention or trial elsewhere, as opposed to those who could be set free once the U.S. negotiated with their home countries.
But they said that about 200 of the detainees are from Afghanistan and Saudi Arabia, both of which have agreements in principle with Washington to take responsibility for their detainees here -- although Afghanistan still does not have a stable place to put them.
Another 100 or so are from Yemen. Neither Bellinger nor Whitten explained whether the U.S. was close to a repatriation agreement with the country that is considered Osama bin Laden's ancestral homeland.
Pentagon officials have said in the past that the panels designate detainees to depart who no longer are considered high-value subjects of interrogation here; are deemed ineligible for trial by Military Commission, or are found to be no longer a threat to the United States.
The U.S. has already sent away more than 300 detainees here, including elderly and infirm as well as what Bellinger described today as ''the low hanging fruit'' of Guantánamo detainees, with whom the U.S. made repatriation agreements.
In the past five or so weeks they also sent away 29 Saudis plus the bodies of two Saudis and a Yemeni captive who were found hanging in their cells June 10, of what the military termed ``apparent suicide.''
Bellinger said the U.S. desire to ''get out of the Guantánamo business'' has been spelled out in a series of statements by President Bush when asked about the topic during state visits with European leaders as well as during a recent U.S-European Union summit in Vienna.