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From Gitmo to Hamburg?

Three terror detainees may soon be sent to the city that gave us Mohamed Atta.

12:27 PM, May 8, 2010 • By JOHN ROSENTHAL
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On first glance, the report in the popular German tabloid Bild could have seemed like a bad joke. “Guantánamo Detainees Slated to Go to Hamburg,” the headline ran. “Despite protests…,” the article began, “[German] Minister of the Interior Thomas de Maizière appears to be determined to accept three of the 183 suspected terrorists still detained at the US camp in Guantánamo.” “After their arrival in Germany,” it continued, “the detainees, who are allegedly not dangerous, are supposed to be housed at first in Hamburg, Bild has learned.” Yes, Hamburg.

From Gitmo to Hamburg?

Ohmed Ahmed Mahamoud Al-Shurfa.

Source: Bild

The report, which was the talk of the German news media in the days before Chancellor Merkel’s mid-April visit to the United States, went virtually entirely ignored by the American media. One of the few English-language news articles to touch upon it was a chatty English-language offering from the German wire service DPA, which emphasized Hamburg’s “cosmopolitan,” “multi-ethnic,” “anything-goes” character. It did not mention that it was in precisely the “cosmopolitan,” “multi-ethnic,” “anything-goes” city of Hamburg that Mohamed Atta and the other members of the eponymous Hamburg Cell planned the 9/11 attacks.

The German-language responses were similarly discreet about Hamburg’s infamous connection to Islamist terror and the worst-ever attack on the American homeland. There were criticisms and protestations. There have been indeed ever since it was first reported in the German media in May 2009 that the Obama administration had asked Germany to accept some Gitmo detainees who had been cleared for release. Those reports emerged just days after a visit to Berlin by Attorney General Eric Holder. More specifically, Daniel Fried, the State Department’s Guantánamo point man, is reported to have submitted a list of “less than ten” candidates to German authorities. The debate flared up again in late March of this year when the German weekly Der Spiegel reported that a German delegation had visited Guantánamo in order to meet with several of the candidates.

The focus of the criticisms and protests, however, has been the potential risk that the detainees could represent for Germany. Above all, politicians from Chancellor Merkel’s Christian Democratic Union (CDU) and its Bavarian sister party, the Christian Social Union (CSU), have raised objections. The governments of several German states governed by the CDU or CSU had already made clear their unwillingness to accept released detainees before the Hamburg option was floated. “In any case, none of them are getting into Bavaria,” Bavarian Interior Minister Joachim Herrmann told the Bayerischer Rundfunk radio in early April, “These are highly dangerous people.”

The mass revolt of leading members of Merkel’s own party appears indeed to be at the origin of the Hamburg option. Chancellor Merkel and Interior Minister de Maizière need the cooperation of state governments in order to be able to accept detainees. As it happens, the city-state of Hamburg is itself governed by a Christian Democratic mayor, if albeit as part of a highly original coalition consisting of Christian Democrats and Greens.

In any case, since the report of the Hamburg option emerged, one would be hard-pressed to find any German news article or commentary suggesting that there might be something peculiarly inappropriate about sending suspected al Qaeda or al Qaeda-linked militants to Hamburg of all places or even just venturing to bring up--to put it mildly--the “irony” of such a proposal. “Don’t mention the Hamburg Cell” appears to have been well and truly the order of the day.

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