A senior Georgian official tells EurasiaNet that Tbilisi and Washington are discussing the possibility of Georgia accepting suspected terrorists currently being held at the US military prison at Guantanamo Bay on the island of Cuba.
Georgian National Security Council Secretary Eka Tkeshelashvili stated that negotiations about a prisoner transfer are "ongoing." She would not specify the nature of the talks, or discuss any potential timetable for a transfer.
President Mikheil Saakashvili has made it clear that Georgia is ready to take Guantanamo prisoners. In a television interview with Fox News in late September, Saakashvili said that the country is "absolutely" willing to host Guantanamo detainees. "You know, whatever we can do to help America on its war on terror, we will do," he said.
The Obama administration faces a January 2010 deadline to close the Guantanamo facility, which still houses over 200 inmates. An estimated 60 detainees have been cleared for release, according to human rights groups.
But finding homes for the prisoners has not been easy. Georgia is one of just a handful of countries that have offered to take Guantanamo prisoners this year, according to the London-based prisoner rights organization Reprieve. The United Kingdom, Portugal, Belgium, France and Ireland also have expressed willingness to accept Guantanamo detainees.
Former prisoners have been released to countries ranging from Albania and Kuwait to Belgium and Ireland. Earlier this year, four Uighurs (Muslims from China's Xinjiang Provence) were relocated to Bermuda.
Many countries are unwilling to take the dozens of prisoners cleared for release because the United States itself has refused to resettle the inmates on US soil, said Andy Worthington, a British journalist and author of "The Guantanamo Files," an examination of conditions within Guantanamo Bay.
The restriction has sent a mixed message about the prisoners and the security risk they would pose for host countries, he said.
As a result, "[t]hey [the US government] are trying to get anybody who will promise to treat these people humanely to take them," Worthington said during a telephone interview from London.
Each country decides itself how to handle the prisoner resettlement process, according to Reprieve. Albania has placed its prisoners in a refugee camp, while Belgium has declined to reveal the whereabouts of its one prisoner.
Tkeshelashvili, the Georgian National Security Council secretary, stated that the Georgian government believes that housing terrorism suspects would pose no enhanced domestic security threat. "We try to be a cooperative partner in every way that we can: we do not only ask for the help of the United States. We try to be a contributing partner," she said. "It is not only the small issues like that [Guantanamo Bay], but the participation in Afghanistan."
Lincoln Mitchell, an assistant professor in international politics at New York's Columbia University, sees the decision to take on the prisoners as a chance for Saakashvili to underscore his strong relationship with the White House -- a crucial part of the Georgian leader's domestic image. "If a big part of [the government's message] is we have a special relationship with the United States, you have to be able to demonstrate that," Mitchell said. "This is one way to demonstrate it."
Although the resettlement program has existed since 2002, little public information exists about how host countries are chosen.
Despite repeated requests from EurasiaNet, US State Department officials did not respond to requests to explain the Guantanamo Bay prisoner release program.
Polly Rossdale, who monitors the program for the British human rights organization Reprieve, notes that while some countries are "definitely a no-go," the US government's human rights criteria for potential host countries is not "clear."
Where Georgia would place the Guantanamo Bay prisoners is unclear. Earlier in October, Dimitri Shashkin, Georgia's minister for corrections and legal assistance, told EurasiaNet that he knew nothing about prisoners from Guantanamo Bay heading to Georgian jails.
Tkeshelashvili said it is too early to speak about details for a potential prisoner resettlement in Georgia since "those issues are not clarified yet."
"It is not a process that any government would speak about without having details," Tkeshelashvili added.
Molly Corso is a freelance reporter based in Tbilisi.