Australia considers resettling Gitmo detainees

/ Source: The Associated Press

Australia said Saturday it is considering a third request from the United States to resettle detainees from the Guantanamo Bay military prison in Cuba.

Australia twice rejected such approaches from former President George W. Bush last year.

The current request is the first from the Barack Obama administration. Obama gained a commitment from Prime Minister Kevin Rudd in April for a 50 percent boost in Australian troops in Afghanistan to 1,550.

"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," the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade said in a statement.

"The same rigor applied to a previous request which was rejected will be applied to this one," it added.

Australia has released no details about the number of detainees being considered or their backgrounds.

The Sydney Morning Herald newspaper reported Saturday that they are 17 Uighurs — Muslims from northwestern China — who were also the subjects of Bush's two requests and have been in Guantanamo Bay for more than six years.

Case of the Uighurs
U.S. authorities no longer consider them enemy combatants but will not send them back to China for fear that they will be tortured or executed, the newspaper said. China says Uighur insurgents are leading an Islamic separatist movement.

A federal judge determined in October that the Uighurs should be freed because they are no longer considered enemy combatants, but the U.S. government has not been able to find a country willing to accept them and has opposed their release into the United States.

Foreign Minister Stephen Smith and U.S. Embassy officials in Canberra were not immediately available for comment Saturday.

Obama has promised to close the Guantanamo prison by early 2010, but members of Congress are resisting the prisoners' transfer to U.S. soil.

Australian opposition leader Malcolm Turnbull said Australia should not accept any former terror suspects that the United States is not prepared to take in.

Australia told the Bush administration in early January that a request made a month earlier to resettle detainees had been rejected on security and immigration criteria.