Bush rejects German leader’s suggestion to close Guantanamo prison
WASHINGTON – President Bush rejected a suggestion by Germany’s new leader that the U.S. close its prison at Guantanamo Bay, saying after a first meeting with Chancellor Angela Merkel on Friday that the facility is “a necessary part of protecting the American people.”Guantanamo has become a symbol in Europe for what many people see as Bush administration excesses in hunting down and interrogating potential terrorists. At least one German is among about 500 foreign-born men held indefinitely at the prison camp on Cuba’s eastern tip.”So long as the war on terror goes on, and so long as there’s a threat, we will inevitably need to hold people that would do ourselves harm,” Bush said at a White House press conference with Merkel.The United States says the detainees are suspected Taliban or al-Qaida operatives or soldiers, but lawyers and rights groups say many were victims of circumstance who are not violent.Bush and Merkel both had tough warnings for Iran over its nuclear brinksmanship.”We will not be intimidated by a country such as Iran,” Merkel said. She also condemned statements by Iran’s leader challenging Israel’s right to exist.Iran threatened Friday to end surprise inspections and other cooperation with the U.N. nuclear watchdog agency if it is hauled before the U.N. Security Council over its nuclear program. The country’s new hardline president vowed his country won’t be cowed by sanctions the council could impose.Iran’s tough line came as Europe and the United States were trying to build support for taking Iran’s case to the Security Council. They faced resistance from China, which warned that the move could only escalate the confrontation.”Iran armed with a nuclear weapon poses a grave threat to the security of the world,” Bush said as he praised Germany for trying to help solve the crisis.”We want an end result to be acceptable, which will yield peace, which is that the Iranians not have a nuclear weapon with which to blackmail … or threaten the world,” Bush said.The two leaders seemed determined to get off to a good start after chilly relations between Washington and Berlin under Merkel’s predecessor, the staunch Iraq war opponent Gerhard Schroeder. Their discussions also included Iraq, Afghanistan and the Balkans.Bush was fulsome in his praise of Merkel as smart, spirited and “plenty capable.”Merkel smiled, but showed she is no pushover. Both she and Bush called their 45-minute, one-on-one session “candid,” diplomatic code for a meeting with real debate and differences.”We also openly addressed that there sometimes have been differences of opinion,” Merkel told reporters. “I mentioned Guantanamo in this respect.”Merkel said last week that while she thinks the prison should not remain open indefinitely, she did not plan to demand its closure when she met with Bush.”We addressed this issue openly,” Merkel said. “And I think it’s, after all, only one facet in our overall fight against terrorism.”That is a fight Merkel said Germany agrees is vital, although “there may sometimes be differences as to the acuteness of that danger … and how we face up to this threat.”Neither Bush nor Merkel mentioned the outrage in Europe over reports that the CIA operated secret prisons there, where terrorism detainees may have been mistreated in violation of European or international human rights law.Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice faced a welter of questions on that topic when she visited Berlin and other European capitals in December, and public opinion in Europe remains strongly skeptical of Washington’s motives and tactics in the terror fight.The Guantanamo prison opened four years ago, after a U.S.-led force ousted the Taliban regime in Afghanistan and scattered an extensive al-Qaida terror network in the country.Dozens of prisoners have gone on hunger strikes – a sign, according to U.N. officials and rights groups, that some have lost hope.Bush challenged reporters to tour the base and see for themselves “how the folks that are being detained there are treated.””These are people picked up off a battlefield who want to do harm,” Bush said, adding that “a lot of folks have been released from Guantanamo.”Of the approximately 760 prisoners brought to Guantanamo since 2002, the military has released 180. It also has transferred 76 to the custody of other countries, such as Australia, Britain, Kuwait, Pakistan, Russia and Saudi Arabia.Only nine have been charged with a crime, and their cases are to go before special military tribunals that many lawyers say lack basic legal protections for defendants.—On the Net:White House: http://www.whitehouse.gov
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