| 30.05,09. 09:53 PM |
Obama pressures Rudd over Gitmo inmates
May 30, 2009
THE Federal Government says it will consider a request by the US President, Barack Obama, for Australia to resettle some of the detainees in the Guantanamo Bay prison camp.
It is believed the request was made a week ago by the US embassy to the Prime Minister's senior adviser on foreign affairs, defence and national security, Philip Green.
It is the third request by the US - but the first by Mr Obama - for Australia to help close the prison camp set up by the Bush administration to house captives in the "war on terrorism".
It is understood the detainees in question are six Uighurs, who are Muslims from north-western China. Australia refused in January to accept them after a similar request from the Bush administration in December - the second time a Bush administation request about Guantanamo inmates was rebuffed.
The 17 Uighurs still in the prison camp have been held for more than six years. US authorities long ago cleared them of being enemy combatants, but will not send them back to China for fear they will be tortured or executed.
It was later revealed that Australia refused to accept any of the Uighurs after being lobbied by Beijing, which considers the men terrorists.
Mr Obama's request presents the Government with a dilemma of balancing the concerns of the Chinese and the US.
The Foreign Affairs Minister, Stephen Smith, confirmed yesterday that a request had been received and said each prisoner would be assessed individually.
"The Australian Government will consider this request, on a case-by-case basis, and in accordance with the Government's strict immigration and national security requirements," he said.
Soon after his inauguration in January, Mr Obama signed an executive order to close down Guantanamo Bay within a year. About 60 of the 240 detainees have been cleared for release, but face persecution if repatriated.
Geoffrey Garrett, the chief executive of the United States Studies Centre within the University of Sydney, said Mr Obama's symbolic promises such as closing Guantanamo were proving difficult to implement.
Professor Garrett said it was unsurprising that the US would lean on its closest allies for help.
He said accepting the detainees could be domestically unpopular and he did not envisage any damage to the US relationship, should the request be rejected, because it was structurally sound.