Ahern and Martin at odds over Guantanamo

 

THE DEPARTMENT of Justice yesterday reiterated Minister Dermot Ahern's recent statement that the Government is not contemplating the resettlement in Ireland of exonerated Guantánamo detainees.

Last month The Irish Timesreported that the Department of Justice and the Department of Foreign Affairs had divergent views on the issue, with officials from the latter believing the Government could earn kudos with the incoming Obama administration by agreeing to resettle at least one detainee.

In answer to a subsequent parliamentary question, the Minister for Justice acknowledged there had been "discussions" with US authorities regarding inmates who have been cleared for release. Officials had also had "informal contacts" with interested parties and lawyers representing one of the exonerated detainees, Uzbek national Oybek Jamoldinivich Jabbarov. It had been made clear to all concerned that Ireland is not contemplating the relocation here of any detainees, Mr Ahern said.

In an interview published yesterday Minister for Foreign Affairs Micheál Martin expressed support for the idea of accepting exonerated detainees for resettlement, reportedly describing it as a "logical follow-through" from the Government's call for the facility to be shut down. The Minister indicated he would raise the issue in Cabinet.

A spokeswoman for the Department of Justice yesterday said Mr Ahern's statement on the issue still stood. "The department is not aware of any change in Government policy," she added.

Amnesty International, which has been lobbying the Government to take in one or more of the detainees, welcomed Mr Martin's comments. "I agree with Minister Martin that there is a 'logical follow-through' from Ireland's opposition to Guantánamo, and the use of torture, to helping shut it down," said Colm O'Gorman, executive director of Amnesty's Irish branch.

"Ireland can assist the incoming US administration in closing Guantánamo by accepting one or more exonerated detainees and we are ready to work with the government to see how best this could be done … The momentum to shut down Guantánamo is unstoppable and Ireland must play its part."

About 50 of the exonerated detainees at Guantánamo cannot be returned to their countries of origin due to the risk of torture or other mistreatment. These inmates come from countries with poor human rights records such as China, Libya, Algeria and Uzbekistan. Their predicament presents a major challenge to US president-elect Barack Obama who has indicated closing Guantánamo will be a priority after he takes office next month.

Amnesty's Irish branch had previously argued that the State could lead by example in becoming the first EU member to accept a detainee who is not one of its citizens. So far Albania is the only country to have done so.

Earlier this month, however, Portuguese foreign minister Luis Amado said Portugal was willing to accept for resettlement inmates cleared for release. In a letter to his counterparts in other European capitals, Mr Amado urged other member states to do the same, arguing the EU should "send a clear signal of our willingness to help the US government resolve this problem".

The US state department welcomed Portugal's move, with a spokesman describing it as "blazing a trail for a new European attitude" to the issue.

But other EU member states have reacted cautiously to the idea of resettlement, with some countries seeking a common European approach and others opposed outright to the proposal.

Last week the French government said there had to be a common European policy on the relocation of detainees.