After years of denying requests from the Bush administration, Europe may be ready to help President-elect Obama solve the Gitmo problem.
When the U.S. government asked years ago that countries take in detainees freed from the Guantanamo military prison, only tiny Albania answered the call.
The rest of Europe had long criticized the U.S. military detention center in Cuba and the Bush administration for opening it in January 2002 to hold so-called “enemy combatants” accused of having links to the al-Qaida terror network or Afghanistan’s ousted Taliban regime.
Now Europe appears to be open to helping, as President-elect Barack Obama has pledged to close the prison. Most Europeans held in Guantanamo have been returned to their home countries, but 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.
Portugal, France, Germany and Switzerland said they would consider taking in some of the remaining detainees. “We’ve encouraged other nations to accept detainees from Guantanamo, and we’re pleased with the recent discussions,” Pentagon spokesman Navy Cmdr. Jeffrey Gordon said Tuesday, adding that U.S. authorities wanted to make sure the detainees — if released — would not be mistreated or pose a threat to the international community. The U.S. military had said it would prosecute about 70 prisoners in military tribunals, but fewer than 20 have been charged. It is unclear what would happen to them should the detention camp be shut and the trials halted.
This would remove the chief stumbling block to a policy that almost all agree, in principle, must happen. Regardless of whatever security benefits it brings, Guantanamo has become a symbolic albatross, harming the reputation of the United States in the West and the Muslim world alike. But there are legitmate logistical problems in actually closing the facility. Human rights concerns preclude deporting them to their home countries and legal and security issues preclude moving them to facilities on U.S. territory such at the military prison at Fort Leavenworth, Kansas.