Closing Guantánamo: Will Europeans take detainees?
Europeans, who have long pushed to close the controversial facility, are hesitant to take some of its inmates.
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European diplomats say it is early days, that the Obama White House has made no formal requests for relocation, and that many nations are waiting for a fuller reading of what the Obama team will bring to transatlantic relations.
As one American diplomat in Europe put it: "They all said no before, and now they want to say yes, but there are domestic and legal hurdles to surmount."
European expert Charles Kupchan, of the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace in Washington, says that, "It would be an important gesture of goodwill and would get the transatlantic relationship off on the right foot … to have help with the prisoners. It would mark a clear break with the Bush years, when Europe was unwilling to help."
But in an EU that is often characterized as divisive and dissembling on hard national problems, and that could not agree this freezing winter on how to collectively deal with gas shut-offs in the Russia-Ukraine dispute, the Obama team may have to be patient.
The administration wants help in its efforts on Afghanistan, but this week, military officials in Germany, France, Britain, and Italy suggested that, at least for now, they would not be sending more troops there.
On Guantánamo, there was a chorus of support from within the relevant quarters in the EU bureaucracy – both before and after Jan. 20. EU Commissioner for Justice Jacques Barrot said this week that Obama's move to close down the detention center was "a chance for a new partnership between Europe and the US." Thomas Hammarberg, the commissioner for human rights at the Council of Europe, on Jan. 19 called for the EU to offer asylum to those who can't return home.
But these voices vie with statements and popular sentiments that the problem is one America caused and thus should deal with. "America created Guantánamo. It has to come up with the solution," as Austria's interior minister, Maria Fekter, stated this week.
Germany's foreign minister, Frank-Walter Steinmeier, has repeatedly called for help with Guantánamo in an election year in which he is Chancellor Merkel's main competitor. But this week, Wolfgang Schauble, the interior minister and a member of Merkel's party, sounded a different note, saying that the republic should only take persons of German nationality, of which there are none. "The United States holds responsibility for the people who have spent years in Guantánamo," he said.
Jennifer Daksal at Human Rights Watch in Washington counters that while the US is primarily responsible, "There now a recognition that Guantánamo is everybody's problem. It is part of the terrorist recruiting narrative. For years, the Europeans have indicated they would help, but Bush never put forward a plan. Now, Barack Obama is ready to do this."