Sat, Jan 03, 2009 - Page 1 News List

Australia unlikely to accept freed Gitmo detainees


Australia will likely reject a US request to accept detainees freed from the Guantanamo Bay military prison, the acting prime minister said yesterday.

Acting Australian Prime Minister Julia Gillard said US President George W. Bush's administration made the request early last month after US president-elect Barack Obama announced he planned to close the prison. Obama has not made such a request, she said.

Australia had rejected a similar request to resettle “a small group of detainees” early last year, said Gillard, who is filling in for Australian Prime Minister Kevin Rudd while he is on vacation.

“Australia, as an ally of the United States, is examining this second request,” Gillard said in a statement. “Notwithstanding that, it is unlikely Australia would accept these detainees.”

The rebuff from Australia — a staunch ally in the US-led war on terror — was a blow to Washington's quest to find homes in other countries for the prisoners, Australian National University political scientist Michael McKinley said.

But he said a request from Obama himself could yet be successful, as Rudd attempts to endear himself to the new administration by helping it politically.

“Rudd could be hoping to win some points with the new administration through this,” McKinley said.

Rudd's center-left Labor Party, which came to power in 2007, has criticized the detention camp at the Guantanamo Bay naval base in Cuba as unjust and demanded the repatriation of two Australians held there.

David Hicks, who was held at Guantanamo for five years without trial, was sent back in 2007 after pleading guilty to supporting terrorism as a Taliban soldier in Afghanistan. He served a nine-month sentence in Australia. Mamdouh Habib, an Egyptian-born immigrant who was arrested in Pakistan in 2001, was returned to Australia in 2005. No charges were ever filed against him.

Habib said yesterday that Australia should not accept the detainees because their histories were unknown.

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