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France agrees to take in Guantanamo detainee

Latest update : 2009-04-03

French President Nicolas Sarkozy said he has agreed to accept a Guantanamo Bay inmate as US President Barack Obama steps up efforts to close the prison in Cuba.

AFP - France agreed Friday to accept an inmate from the Guantanamo Bay prison camp in Cuba as US President Barak Obama seeks help from European nations to close the notorious facility down.
French President Nicolas Sarkozy said the move, which could involve an Algerian detainee according to US officials, had been settled during talks in Strasbourg with Obama.
"Yes we have spoken, yes we have agreed" to accept one detainee, Sarkozy told reporters in Strasbourg, northeastern France, ahead of a two-day NATO summit here and in the neighbouring German city of Kehl.
He said that if Washington is asking its allies to take inmates it is "because that will allow the camp to be closed. So, if we are going to be coherent, we say yes."
European Union nations have regularly demanded the closure of the jail, where "war on terror" prisoners have been held often without charge or trial, and have welcomed Obama's decision to finally shut it.
But national laws differ widely among the 27 EU countries and they are struggling to define a common position on how best to help.
Sarkozy said he thought that Guantanamo was an affront to US values.
"Guantanamo did not conform to the values of the United States, at least not my idea of them," he said. "We don't combat terrorists with terrorist methods, we combat them with the methods of democracy."
Speaking later to an audience of students, Obama conceded that the jail and the abuses that took place there had been a mistake.
"In dealing with terrorism, we can't lose sight of our values and who we are. That's why I close Guantanamo, that's why I made it very clear that we will not engage in certain interrogation practices," he said.
"We are going to conduct our operations in ways that reflect our best selves and make sure that we are proud.
"That in turn will allow the Europeans, I think, to feel good about our joint efforts, and also not to have excuses not to participate in those joint efforts," he said.
In Washington, a US official said France was considering taking an Algerian detainee "because there are historic links between France and Algeria."
Algeria is a former French colony that secured its independence after a gruesome war that lasted from 1954 to 1962.
Two Algerian nationals -- Lakhdar Boumediene, 42, and Saber Lahmar, 39 -- have been detained at the controversial US military prison camp for the past seven years.
They were among five cleared for release last November by a US judge who ruled they were illegally detained.
Boumediene has been on hunger strike for the past two years but rights group Amnesty International says he has been force-fed.
"No decision has been taken on individual cases," a French foreign ministry spokesman cautioned, adding that the security and legal risks of hosting any detainee would be carefully evaluated.
The official also said that it would be helpful if the United States could also house some released detainees who can't return to their homeland, citing the example of Chinese prisoners from the Muslim Uighur minority.
More than 800 men and teenagers have passed through Guantanamo since former US president George W. Bush opened it on January 11, 2002 as a destination for "war on terror" suspects in the wake of the September 11, 2001 attacks.
Some 245 prisoners are still held there, with around 60 of them cleared for release. The United States is expected to ask other European nations to host some who can not be sent back to homelands where they may face arrest or worse.
But many EU nations are concerned at the prospect that some of their neighbours might allow potentially dangerous people into the vast 25-state Schengen area, where people can move freely without passport checks.
The Europeans are also want Washington to accept some cleared for release prisoners or provide good reasons for why it cannot.

Date created : 2009-04-03