George W Bush, establisher of Guantanamo Bay (’Gitmo’) detention centre for suspected terrorists, has now asked Australia, and other countries, to take inmates, possibly terrorists, that he doesn’t know how to manage.
Acting PM Julia Gillard has said that Australia would formally consider requests on “a case by case basis”, but it is “unlikely” to take them. The former statement is diplomatic. The latter statement is designed to allay fears within, and backlash from, both the media and voters. It is unlikely that even former PM John Howard, often portrayed as President Bush’s foreign deputy and yes-man, would have agreed to the request. It is unlikely that the current Labor government would want to take any responsibility for the policies of the former Liberal Government.
The request form George W Bush has been made after the US elections, but before the inauguration of President-elect Barak Obama, who has promised to close Guantanamo Bay. President Bush says that many of the detainees can’t be returned to their homeland because they would be a danger (of treason, sedition or terrorist charges), yet Bush has not indicated that the US is prepared to take any of the people he detained. Today’s ‘The Australian’ (http://www.theaustralian.news.com.au/story/0,25197,24867414-601,00.html)newspaper) reports:
“Major General John Altenburg, formerly an appointing authority to the US military Commissions - the body that oversees the prosecution of terror suspects at Guantanamo Bay - told The Weekend Australian that a significant number (30 or more) of former detainees had subsequently undertaken terrorist acts or had been recaptured on the battlefield. … it’s a fair comment to say, ‘we don’t want these people. Now we’ve got the burden of watching them and we don’t know whether they’re dangerous or not’ "
Yes, the US doesn’t want the detainees, doesn’t know how they’re going to monitor them, and Bush asks other countries to take them for him. His request seems to be driven by the usual tenet governing most US foreign policy - ‘what’s in our self-interest, and the self-interests of us politicians?’ It’s a tenet that might not be that unusual in international relations.
The problem for Australia, and other countries whose then leaders strongly supported Bush, and Guantanamo Bay, is that because of the support given by our then leaders, our countries also have some responsibility. Just what that is, and how we fulfil it, is a discussion we need to have.