January 9, 2006

Guantanamo inmate pins hope on Merkel’s U.S. trip

BERLIN (Reuters) - A German lawyer urged Chancellor Angela
Merkel on Monday to press for the release of his client from
the U.S. prison camp at Guantanamo Bay when she visits
Washington this week.

Bernhard Docke, whose Turkish client Murat Kurnaz was born
and raised in Germany, said he was encouraged by an interview
published at the weekend in which Merkel criticized the
Guantanamo camp and said it could not continue indefinitely.

"I'm very pleasantly surprised that it's a conservative
chancellor who's now finally speaking clearly and ending this
period of pussyfooting and false diplomatic restraint, and
speaking openly about Guantanamo," Docke told Reuters.

Kurnaz, who was born in Germany in 1982 to Turkish parents
and is a Turkish national, was in the process of becoming a
German citizen when he was arrested in Pakistan in late 2001.

He was taken from there to Guantanamo, Cuba, where the
United States is holding hundreds of men it suspects of backing
Osama bin Laden's al Qaeda or Afghanistan's radical Islamist

Docke said he hoped Merkel would raise the case directly
when she meets President George W. Bush on Friday on her first
U.S. visit since taking office in November.

"Experience with the release of other European prisoners
from Guantanamo shows that pressure from the home government
was decisive, and that has been missing in the Kurnaz case," he
said. "The Kurnaz case belongs on the agenda too."

Docke said Merkel's office had written to him last month
saying it would raise the case with the Americans "on
humanitarian grounds." The foreign ministry had told him in
late December its ambassador in Turkey would try to get Ankara
to support a joint German-Turkish initiative on Kurnaz's

Docke has said Kurnaz may have wanted to join the Taliban
but was at most a "wannabe" militant, who had not taken part in
armed conflict.

Kurnaz alleges he has suffered abuse at Guantanamo, where
the United States has come under strong criticism from human
rights groups for holding some 500 foreign terrorism suspects,
many for as long as four years and all but nine without

Those held in Guantanamo have been designated "enemy
combatants," a label which allows Washington to argue that they
are not entitled to the rights accorded to prisoners of war
under the terms of the Geneva Convention.