Last year, King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia proposed an unorthodox way to return Guantanamo Bay prisoners to a chaotic country like Yemen without fear that they would disappear and join a terrorist group.

The King told a top White House aide, John Brennan, that the United States should implant an electronic chip in each detainee to track his movements, as is sometimes done with horses and falcons.

“Horses don't have good lawyers,” Brennan replied.

That unusual discussion in March 2009 was one of hundreds recounted in a cache of secret State Department cables obtained by WikiLeaks and made available to a number of news organisations that reveal painstaking U.S. efforts to safely reduce the population of the Guantanamo Bay prison in Cuba so it could eventually close.

U.S. diplomats went looking for countries that were not only willing to take in former prisoners but could be trusted to keep them under close watch.

Incentives and assistance

Slovenia, seeking a meeting with President Barack Obama, was encouraged to “do more” on detainee resettlement if it wanted to “attract higher-level attention from Washington”; its Prime Minister later “linked acceptance of detainees to ‘a 20-minute meeting'” with the President, but the session — and the prisoner transfer — never happened. The Maldives tied acceptance of prisoners to U.S. help in obtaining International Monetary Fund assistance, while the Bush administration offered the Pacific island of Kiribati “an incentive package” of $3 million to take 17 Chinese Muslim detainees, the cables show.

In discussions about creating a rehabilitation programme for its own citizens, the President of Yemen repeatedly asked Brennan, “How many dollars will the U.S. bring?”

Other dispatches illuminated the difficulties of resettling Uighurs, Chinese Muslim prisoners who had been ordered freed by a federal judge. China was deemed likely to abuse them, but Beijing demanded their return.

Perhaps the greatest obstacle to closing the prison has been figuring out what to do with detainees from Yemen, who constitute about half of the remaining prisoners at Guantanamo. In a September 2009 meeting with Brennan, Mr. Obama's top counterterrorism adviser, Yemen's President, Ali Abdullah Saleh, proposed transferring them all into his prisons. But, a cable later said, “Saleh would, in our judgment, be unable to hold returning detainees in jail for any more than a matter of weeks before public pressure or the courts forced their release.” Mr. Saleh's erratic approach compounded the situation.

In February 2009, Kuwait's Interior Minister proposed a solution for other Guantanamo detainees who seemed too extremist for successful reintegration into society: let them die in combat.

“You know better than I that we cannot deal with these people,” the Minister, Sheik Jaber al-Khaled al-Sabah, told the U.S. Ambassador, a cable reported. “If they are rotten, they are rotten and the best thing to do is get rid of them. You picked them up in Afghanistan; you should drop them off in Afghanistan, in the middle of the war zone.”

Al-Sabah's private comments contrasted sharply with the public stance of his government. Under domestic pressure to urge the United States to send home all Kuwaitis from Guantanamo, Kuwait has strongly suggested that it is doing so. The United States often has required countries to impose travel bans among other restrictions, including continuing surveillance on freed prisoners, sometimes with mixed success.— © New York Times News Service

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