Page last updated at 07:14 GMT, Saturday, 3 January 2009

Canberra rejects Guantanamo cases

Guantanamo detainees
Some 255 inmates as still being held at Guantanamo

Australia has formally rejected a US request to take in detainees from the Guantanamo Bay military jail.

Deputy Prime Minister Julia Gillard said the decision was based on "stringent national security and immigration considerations."

It is the second time in a year that Australia has rejected such a request.

Washington has expressed concern that some inmates released from Guantanamo could be tortured or persecuted if they were returned to their home countries.

US President-elect Barack Obama has pledged to shut the camp in Cuba once he takes office in January.

Some 255 inmates as still being held at Guantanamo, including about 60 Washington no longer considers a threat and has cleared for release.

Canberra's pledge

Ms Gillard said on Saturday that the outgoing administration of US President George W Bush made its latest request in December.

David Hicks was returned home to Australia and is now free of controls
Australian David Hicks was the first Guantanamo detainee to be convicted

"Assessing those requests from a case-by-case basis, they had not met our stringent national security and immigration criteria and have been rejected," said Ms Gillard, who is filling in for Prime Minister Kevin Rudd while he is on holiday.

Australia had rejected a similar US request to resettle "a small group of detainees" in early 2008.

However, Ms Gillard pointed out that Canberra remained open to future US approaches on the issue.

The US State Department has asked about 100 countries for help clearing Guantanamo Bay over a two-year period, The Australian newspaper reported.

Britain and Portugal are pressing other European countries to take in prisoners from the camp.

While London has not directly offered asylum, it said it accepted the US would need help closing the facility.

Australian inmates

Mr Rudd's centre-left Labor Party, which came to power in 2007, has often criticised the conditions and treatment of inmates in Guantanamo.

While in opposition, the party demanded the repatriation of two Australians being held there.

One of them, Mamdouh Habib, was released from the camp without charge in 2005.

The other, David Hicks, was the first detainee held at Guantanamo Bay to be convicted of supporting terrorism.

He was allowed to return home in May 2007 after pleading guilty.

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