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Fed: Australia says no to Guantanamo inmate request

03 Jan 2009 5:16 PM

SYDNEY, Jan 3 AAP - Australia has refused a request from the United States to take Guantanamo Bay inmates.

Acting Prime Minister Julia Gillard says the federal government had advised the US that Australia would not resettle inmates being held at Guantanamo Bay as terror suspects.

It was the second request made to Australia, along with a number of other countries, to take some of the detainees, around 60 of whom cannot be repatriated in their home countries.

Australia had declined both requests, Ms Gillard said.

"Early in 2008, we received a request from the US government to consider resettlement of a group of detainees," Ms Gillard told reporters in Melbourne on Saturday.

"That request was denied by the Australian government.

"In December 2008, we received a second request.

"We have considered that request and last night Australian time, Friday US time, we advised the US government that we would not be agreeing to those resettlement requests.

"Those resettlement requests were considered on a case by case basis against Australia's stringent national security and immigration criteria.

"Assessing those requests on a case by case basis (they) have not met those stringent national security and immigration criteria and have been rejected.

"(As) for the future, we will consider any future requests on a case by case basis against these stringent criteria for both national security and immigration."

She said both requests had been made by the administration of George W Bush, not of president-elect Barack Obama.

The federal opposition welcomed the government's decision.

Opposition legal affairs spokesman George Brandis said the request should never have been considered.

"We are speaking about people, terrorism suspects captured on the field of battle detained in Guantanamo Bay who are among the most dangerous people among the world," Senator Brandis told reporters in Brisbane on Saturday.

"If the American government were uncomfortable with those people being resettled in the United States under what possible set of circumstances would it be proper for the Australian government to consider settling those people in Australia?"

Senator Brandis condemned former Liberal prime minister Malcolm Fraser for saying it would be acceptable to take some of the detainees who had been assessed as innocent of any terrorist crime.

"I think the best counsel for former prime ministers is to maintain a dignified silence and I think very little of Malcolm Fraser's remarks on the matter," Senator Brandis said.

"This is a backdown by the Australian government on a position it held as early as yesterday when it indicated that the initial request would be considered on a case by case basis.

"It's a backdown the opposition welcomes."

About 250 detainees remain at Guantanamo Bay, including 16 so-called "high value detainees", such as Khalid Shaikh Mohammed the mastermind behind the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks against the US, and Hambali, thought to have been behind the Bali bombings in 2002.