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13th Jun 2021

Guantanamo inmates traded for money and Obama handshakes

European governments negotiating with the US on the resettlement of Guantanamo Bay inmates asked for money and meetings with Barack Obama, while others refused to accept Chinese Uighurs for fear of upsetting Beijing, diplomatic cables disclosed by WikiLeaks show.

Following Barack Obama's pledge to close the 'terror camp' at Guantanamo Bay by January 2010, America's diplomats engaged in frantic efforts to convince EU governments to take in some of the 60 former terrorism suspects who were free to go, but who could or did not want to return to their home countries.

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  • Guantanamo detainee: 'If there were colonies on the Moon, I'm sure they'd send us there' (Photo: Wikipedia)

The deadline has since foundered away, partly because few countries responded positively to the offers made by Daniel Fried, Washington's special envoy on Guantanamo resettlements.

In cables seen in advance by Der Spiegel and the New York Times, Mr Fried reported back to Washington about which countries were willing to take former Guantanamo detainees and at what price.

The Bulgarian interior ministry, for instance, expressed willingness to accept two men, on condition that the US got rid of visa requirements for Bulgarian tourists and businessmen and helped with relocation expenses.

Mr Fried proposed "a symbolic amount in the neighbourhood of $50,000 - $80,000 per detainee."

Similar amounts were offered to other countries as well. Mr Fried told politicians in the Maldives, an archipelago in the Indian Ocean, that other states had received $25,000 to $85,000 per detainee to cover "temporary living expenses and other costs." The Maldives could expect something toward the upper end of the range, he said.

Symbolic gestures were also highly prized. Slovenian Prime Minister Borut Pahor, for instance, asked for a "20 minutes meeting" with Mr Obama and was encouraged to "do more" on taking in former inmates if he wanted to "attract higher-level attention from Washington," according to the two newspapers.

Neither the prisoner transfer, nor the handshake between the two leaders ever materialised.

Mr Pahor's office on Monday (29 November) said it had no information about Slovenia being told by the US administration that it would need to take a Guantanamo Bay prisoner if its prime minister wanted to meet Mr Obama.

Luxembourg was particularly reluctant to taking in detainees. A cable from 15 January 2010 shows that the government was only ready to "provide financial assistance, training and housing costs, and other technical assistance," but not to take in any inmates. An account from a former detainee, Mozzam Begg, who visited Luxembourg and promoted the resettlement cause, says that "if detainees could fit in in Palau, they could do the same in Luxembourg."

"Mr Begg deplored that certain people believe the world is not big enough for the ex-detainees. He added that if there were colonies on the Moon, "I'm sure they'd send us there," the cable reads.

Other cables paint Germany in a particularly bad light for being reluctant to resettle a group of 16 Chinese Uighurs, for fear of a "diplomatic row" with Beijing. Even when Mr Fried insisted that Germany take at least two of them, who were very ill, Chancellor Angela Merkel's security advisor Christoph Heusgen "was not optimistic that China would demonstrate any understanding for the two humanitarian cases," the transcript says.

A cable from 8 May 2009 on an ambassadors' meeting in Beijing says that "German ambassador Michael Schaefer reported that Germany had informed China of the U.S. request to accept some Uighur detainees held at Guantanamo and had been subsequently warned by China of 'a heavy burden on bilateral relations' if Germany were to accept any detainees."

Finland was also bullied by China about the Uighurs. An aide to Finland's prime minister confided in August 2009 "that Chinese diplomats in Helsinki have repeatedly warned them about the damage to bilateral relations should Finland accept any Uighurs," a cable quoted by the New York Times said.

The two humanitarian cases were eventually taken up by Switzerland earlier this year.

Albania also took up five Uighurs, but back in 2006. In 2009, the Albanian government offered to resettle three to six detainees not from China. American diplomats portrayed his offer as "gracious, but probably extravagant."

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