Muslim nations asked to take inmates guantanamo bay detainees [Archives:2005/868/Local News]

August 15 2005

The US is negotiating with Muslim countries to take custody of detainees held at Guantanamo Bay in an attempt to reduce the inmate population at the controversial detention facility in Cuba.

The administration is close to reaching agreements with 10 Muslim countries to repatriate detainees, the Washington Post reported yesterday. The US has already reached a similar agreement with Afghanistan, and is also talking to authorities in Yemen and Saudi Arabia, whose nationals account for a significant share of the 510 detainees.

The administration says it will repatriate prisoners only after receiving guarantees that they would not be tortured. But human rights groups question whether the administration is simply attempting to reduce criticism of Guantanamo by transferring detainees to countries such as Saudi Arabia that have record of human rights abuses.

“Our goal is not to clean out Guantanamo, it is to clean it up,” said Tom Malinowski, Washington advocacy director for Human Rights Watch.

“The administration … is trying to wash their hands of the problem but not necessarily solve the problem. From a humanitarian point of view, ironically, it is better for them to remain in US custody than be handed over to Saudi Arabia,” Mr Malinowski said.

The US also wants other countries to accept about a dozen Chinese Muslims, whom the Pentagon has determined do not pose a threat to the US.

The administration does not want to return the Uighurs to China because of concerns that they will be tortured. The Uighurs come from western China's Xinjiang province, where some Muslims have waged a low-level insurgency for years.

A number of European countries, including Sweden, Germany, Switzerland, Finland and Norway, have previously rejected US requests to take some of the Uighurs, partly because the US itself is not willing to accept some of the detainees. The US has also held discussions with Panama.

The US has come under heavy international criticism over Guantanamo, where detainees have been held without trial for several years. Several Republican lawmakers have joined Democrats in calling on the administration to improve detention policies, and move more quickly towards holding trials for the prisoners.

Separately, lawyers for one detainee this week asked the Supreme Court to block military trials that are expected to begin at Guantanamo next month.

A US court last year postponed the trial of Salim Ahmed Hamdan, Osama bin Laden's driver in Afghanistan.

But last month, an appeals court – which included Judge John Roberts, the White House nominee to fill the vacant seat on the Supreme Court – overturned the decision, paving the way for the first military trials since the second world war.