MELBOURNE, Australia – Australia has told the United States for a second time that it will not resettle detainees freed from the Guantanamo Bay military prison in Cuba, the acting prime minister said Saturday.
Julia Gillard said President George W. Bush's administration was told Friday that a request made in early December to resettle an unspecified number of detainees had been rejected.
"Assessing those requests from a case-by-case basis, they had not met our stringent national security and immigration criteria and have been rejected," said Gillard, who is filling in for Prime Minister Kevin Rudd while he is on vacation.
She said the government had rejected a similar resettlement request in early 2008.
The Bush administration made the latest request after President-elect Barack Obama promised to close the prison.
Many European nations — which had long been loath to accept detainees from the prison — more recently indicated a willingness to resettle inmates.
Gillard foreshadowed the rebuff of Australia's most important ally on Friday when she said her government was unlikely to accept any detainees.
Australian National University political scientist Michael McKinley had said that a rejection would be a blow to Washington's quest to find homes in other countries for the prisoners.
But he said a request from Obama himself could might still be successful, as Rudd attempts to endear himself to the new administration.
On Saturday, Gillard stressed that the two requests had come from the Bush administration, when asked if the government's decision would put Australia at loggerheads with the incoming Obama administration, which takes power later this month.
Opposition legal affairs spokesman George Brandis said Australia should never have even considered resettling the detainees who include terror suspects.
"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?" Sen. Brandis said to reporters in the east coast city of Brisbane.
U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates has called for proposals for transferring the remaining 250 or so detainees — amid concerns that some could be persecuted if sent back to their home nations.
Most come from Yemen, but others are from Azerbaijan, Algeria, Afghanistan, Chad, China and Saudi Arabia.
Some have been held without charge since the prison camp opened in 2002 to hold so-called "enemy combatants" accused of having links to the Al Qaeda terror network or Afghanistan's ousted Taliban regime.
Officials from France, Germany, Portugal and Switzerland have all recently said they are looking into accepting detainees from the U.S. prison. Britain, on the other hand, has declined to say whether it will resettle inmates, though the Foreign Office has said it recognizes the U.S. will need help from allies to close the facility.