US wants to export 30 Guantánamo inmates but Europe is balking

Was attorney general Eric Holder's visit to Berlin last week a 'diplomatic begging tour'?

Berlin – European countries widely praised the Obama administration’s decision earlier this year to close down Guantánamo Bay, which was a major friction point in transatlantic relations during the Bush presidency.

But few are rushing to offer help relocating about 30 prisoners – of 241 still held in the prison – the US says will be released soon but cannot return home for fear of persecution.

Last month, France said it would take one Guantánamo detainee. In the past, Albania and Sweden have stepped up (click here for more Monitor coverage, as well as here for coverage of Sweden's recent asylum grant to a Uighur prisoner). But major European powers like Germany, Britain, and Italy are still on the fence.

US Attorney General Eric Holder completed a brief tour of several European capitals last week, making backroom appeals for European leaders to take Guantánamo detainees.

During a speech at the American Academy here on Wednesday, Mr. Holder spoke of the need for both the US and Europe “to make sacrifices” and the “unpopular choices” needed to close Guantánamo. Holder said his talks in Berlin, Prague, and London were positive. “There were no definitive no’s anywhere,” he said, according to Der Spiegel.

Holder says the US expects in a matter of weeks to begin asking European countries to take prisoners. Detainees to be released have all been cleared of wrongdoing and pose no danger to society, the US says. Yet European nations are balking largely because they insist they would not know who they are getting, and why they were detained in the first place.

During Holder's trip last week, Spanish judge Baltasar Garzón opened an investigation into "any of those that executed and/or designed a systematic plan of torture" at Guantánamo. Is he targeting Dick Cheney and George Bush? ( Click here for a Monitor story about the Spanish case.)

In Germany, Europe’s most outspoken opponent of Guantánamo, the debate over whether to take detainees has turned fierce. The influential weekly newspaper, Die Zeit, is calling Holder’s European visit “a diplomatic begging tour.”

German Interior Minister Wolfgang Schäuble is maintaining a “you broke it, you fix it” view of the detainee issue, telling Die Zeit, “The responsibility for those who have been held in Guantanamo for years lies with the USA.”

Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier, who is running to unseat Chancellor Angela Merkel in national elections this September, is pushing for Germany to take detainees that pose no security risks.

“Over years we clamored for the closing of Guantánamo,” Mr. Steinmeier told the Sächsische Zeitung newspaper recently. “We cannot hide in the bushes, not now when they mean business.”

Indeed, there's growing evidence of the role of European governments in US renditions and torture. Der Spiegel has a compelling investigative story on their website about a secret prison in Poland where Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, the architect of the 9/11 atttacks, was taken for interrogation. The story says it was there that he was waterboarded 183 times.

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