Page last updated at 16:48 GMT, Monday, 22 December 2008

Germany 'mulling Guantanamo move'

Barbed wire at Quantanamo Bay, with a US flag in the background
The US has faced a barrage of criticism over the controversial detention camp

Germany says it is considering accepting prisoners released from the US detention camp at Guantanamo Bay.

The foreign ministry said it was looking into the legal, political and practical implications of such a move.

About 250 men remain at the camp, the closure of which is one of incoming US President Barack Obama's stated aims.

About 50 inmates are said to have been cleared for release, but the US cannot repatriate them due to the risk of mistreatment.

For example, the US says a group of Muslim Uighurs from western China's Xinjiang province can be freed.

But the only country willing to take them is China where, the men fear, they could face persecution as dissidents - so they need somewhere else to go.

Portugal has already offered to take some of the detainees and urged fellow European Union nations to follow its lead.

'Must not fail'

German deputy government spokesman Thomas Steg said that the issue of accepting detainees would be addressed when the US had set out specific plans and a timeline for closing the camp.

"If we begin to review such closure plans and take a stance, then it can only be in a European context based on a discussion with all member states," he said.

No conditions could be placed on any handover, he added.

But, said a foreign ministry spokesman, Foreign Minister Frank Walter Steinmeier had made it clear that he did not want the planned closure to fail because there was no-one willing to take prisoners who could not return home.

Last week the Pentagon confirmed a team was drafting plans for the closure of the camp, in preparation for Mr Obama taking office on 20 January.

The president-elect has indicated that he wants the camp - where men suspected of links to terrorism or al-Qaeda have been held without trial as "unlawful enemy combatants" - to be closed within two years.

But shutting Guantanamo down will be an extremely complicated process, some officials have warned, involving far more than finding countries to take those cleared for release.

Those still detained include men alleged to have planned the 11 September 2001 attacks.

How and where they would be detained or tried in the future is not clear.

Mr Obama, the Department of Justice and perhaps Congress will need to build a whole new legal process for handling the remaining Guantanamo detainees, correspondents say.

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