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Perspectives

January 26, 2009
E.U. splits on the future of Guantánamo’s prisoners

EU foreign policy chief Javier Solana called Guantánamo “an American problem.”

Though members of the European Union have expressed support for Barack Obama’s decision to close the U.S. prison at Guantánamo Bay, few are eager to accommodate its roughly 245 detainees.

Concern has grown since it emerged that a former detainee is now an al-Qaeda leader in Yemen.

Ahto Lobjakas writes at Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty about the positions of many E.U. member states and varying reasons for their reluctance to accept detainees.

For more on Obama’s future with Guantánamo and Cuba, tune into our blogtalkradio show tomorrow at 7:30 p.m. EST.

In Brussels, EU Strains For Guantanamo Goodwill Gesture

EU foreign ministers are gathered in Brussels for the bloc’s first chance to extend a joint welcome to President Barack Obama’s administration, with widespread hopes that the new U.S. president will consult them more on issues of mutual interest.

Most observers in the EU agree the bloc has a narrow window of opportunity to prove to Obama that it deserves to be taken seriously.

Yet EU member states were struggling in the run-up to the meeting to reach a common position on the fate of Guantanamo and its 245 prisoners, an issue that, more than most, symbolizes the hopes associated with Obama.

[…]At one level, the issue has become a well-rehearsed squabble of jurisdiction. A proposal has emerged that envisions the EU accepting up to 60 former detainees. But despite attempts at EU-wide harmonization, asylum policy remains a national matter. For some, like Germany’s Christian Democrat minister of the interior, Wolfgang Schauble, safeguarding national prerogatives is a matter of principle.

Schauble has said Germany would only have agreed to accept prisoners if there had been any of German origin. But generally, he says, the Guantanamo detainees are the United States’ problem to deal with.

That is a sentiment echoed before the January 26 meeting by EU foreign-policy chief Javier Solana. “This is an American problem that they have to solve, but we will be ready to help if necessary,” Solana said.

Other countries, like Sweden, Denmark, and the Netherlands, decline for ideological reasons, saying accepting Guantanamo prisoners would legitimate the more dubious detention and interrogation practices of the U.S. “war on terror.”

They stress that the Guantanamo camp was set up in violation of international law and remains a U.S. responsibility. “We did not set up or support Guantanamo Bay. We did not make these mistakes,” the Dutch foreign minister, Maxime Verhagen, told the country’s parliament two months ago.

Still others fear the potential security risks the terrorist suspects may pose once they are released. Some EU countries argue their legislation limits asylum rights to refugees — a status for which Guantanamo inmates do not qualify. Many of Washington’s close allies in Eastern Europe fall into this category, meaning their natural inclination to give the United States a hand could be undone by their restrictive immigration laws.

The governments of France and Britain appear prepared, in principle, to host people freed from Guantanamo, but have argued for a joint European response that would leave member states free to make their own individual decisions.

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