Britain is preparing to receive foreign terror suspects from Guantánamo Bay so that Barack Obama can shut it down, The Times has learnt.
Government sources say that Britain now supports moves to rehouse the detainees, despite previous refusals to help President Bush.
A Downing Street official said that a process to deal with the detainees was being put in place and that decisions “would be for the Home Secretary to decide on a case-by-case basis”.
The issue is the subject of intense negotiations within Whitehall. The Foreign Office appears much keener on the idea than other departments, which will have to deal with the suspects’ immigration status and whether they will need special housing and cash benefits. Having foreign terror suspects with no links to the UK housed here inevitably will provoke controversy.
“Of course the Foreign Office wants to do it, they want to get off to a good start with Obama,” said a Whitehall source. “This is the sort of thing that will require a Cabinet-level decision.”
Britain accepts that the prison should be closed, according to a diplomatic source, and that the US is going to need help to close it. The Government is supporting a call from Portugal for EU members to resettle detainees. The letter from the Foreign Minister Luis Amado to his EU counterparts follows weeks of internal EU discussions. Germany has said that it is considering taking in detainees. Mr Amado plans to raise the issue at a meeting of EU foreign ministers this month. It is also on the agenda at an EU General Affairs and External Relations Council meeting.
Late last year the Bush Administration sent a number of European allies, including Britain, a list of detainees, cleared for release by the US military, who face persecution in their home countries. The US State Department cabled about 100 countries for help in closing the jail.
The entreaties were met largely with refusals, but there is a desire to help Mr Obama, who has vowed to begin moves to close the prison as soon as he takes office this month. The President-elect has not made any formal request for help, but there have been talks between the US State Department and his transition team and he has made clear that he will exert pressure on Europe to take prisoners no longer deemed a threat.
The US military says that of the 248 prisoners still in Guantánamo Bay, “approximately 60” have been cleared for release. One move being discussed in Washington is for the US to take in 17 Chinese Uighurs, who cannot return to China, as an opening gesture. Mr Obama’s plan is for the most dangerous detainees – between 30 and 80 men – to be taken to the US for formal trials. This presents problems, however, as evidence against inmates such as Khaled Sheikh Mohammed, the self-confessed mastermind of the September 11 attacks, was obtained through duress.
Britain ready to take in Guantánamo prisoners - Times Online