EU fails to agree on who will host Guantánamo prisoners

Criticize? Mais, oui! Help? Ehh ... peut-être.

After spending the past few years lambasting the Bush administration for holding suspected terrorists at the Guantánamo Bay detention facility in Cuba without charge or trial, European leaders now find themselves in a quandary.

Now that President Obama has ordered Gitmo shut down, he needs allied countries to volunteer to host the former detainees.

Trouble is, few European countries have made concrete offers to help.

European Union (EU) member states met today on the issue, but (surprise!) failed to come up with a joint plan of action.

Der Spiegel reported that France had floated a proposal that EU countries offer homes to about 60 inmates who were deemed innocent but would risk persecution or torture if sent to their home countries.

'It's a legal thing'

Karel Schwarzenberg, foreign minister from the Czech Republic, which holds the EU’s rotating presidency, cited legal reasons as the main impediment to coming up with a joint statement, reports Bloomberg.

“We can’t give a quick answer,” Schwarzenberg told reporters after the meeting.
European leaders have had contrasting positions about what they’re ready to offer. Portugal, France, and non-EU member Switzerland have said they’ll consider taking prisoners on a case-by-case basis, while Italy is open to the idea but wants a common EU position. ...

Germany hasn’t decided whether to take prisoners, while the Dutch government has refused on the grounds that the U.S. should handle the situation. The U.K., which has accepted six of its nationals and four residents since 2004, will “offer our experience” to EU allies, British Foreign Secretary David Miliband said.

EU leaders "stressed that American authorities must show ex-inmates pose no security threat before they can be resettled," reports the Associated Press.

But therein lies the rub.

If the detainees are deemed too dangerous to be hosted on European soil, should they then be set free to attack from somewhere else? If not, where then should they be held if the US detention facility in Cuba was so bad?

"Not our problem," say the Europeans.

"There is no question that chief responsibility to do with solving the problem of this detention center lies with those who set it up, the Americans themselves," said German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier. "But it is also a question of our credibility – of whether we support the dismantling of this American camp or not."

Like herding cats?

If that credibility is really at stake, the EU will have to overcome long odds to salvage it, given that the 27-member EU has a hard time agreeing on most issues.

Here's how the Monitor's Europe Bureau Chief Robert Marquand put it in a recent article: "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 [when it comes to who will host Gitmo prisoners]."

That virtue of Obama's may well be tested soon.

As Monitor correspondent Caryle Murphy reports today, "two Saudis formerly jailed at the US prison camp in Guantánamo Bay, Cuba, have joined Al Qaeda's Yemeni branch, and authorities here worry that two other ex-Guantánamo inmates may have strayed back to militancy because they have recently disappeared from their homes."

Gunmen opened fire Monday night at a checkpoint outside the US embassy in Yemen's capital, Sanaa, the BBC quoted Yemeni officials as saying.

The clock is ticking.

of stories this month > Get unlimited stories
You've read of 5 free stories

Only $1 for your first month.

Get unlimited Monitor journalism.