EU backs Guantanamo closure but wary of accepting inmates
Brussels — European Union nations expressed support Monday for US moves to close the Guantanamo "war on terror" prison camp but few are keen to accept the freed detainees.
EU foreign ministers, at talks in Brussels, underlined the need to help President Barack Obama close the notorious prison at the US naval base in Cuba, which has blighted America’s moral standing in the world.
But despite their desire to reach out to the new US leader, legal procedures differ in each of the 27 European Union nations and defining a common stance on the way some of the 245 inmates would enter is virtually impossible.
"There was nobody very hot about this, that’s perfectly true," Czech Foreign Minister Karel Schwarzenberg, whose country holds the EU’s rotating presidency, conceded after hosting the meeting.
"Due to the legal situation, we can’t give a quick answer," he told reporters, noting that as yet "there was no official request to the European Union" from the United States anyway.
He said that EU justice and interior ministers would also have to be involved in drawing up any response the bloc might make, meaning that a common position may be some way off.
Earlier, Portugal’s Prime Minister Luis Amado, who has led calls to help Obama, said that the EU needs "a common umbrella so that the different member states can deal with the United States."
He said up to seven states might be ready to host released inmates.
The camp, with its special military tribunals, has been condemned as a legal black hole that used evidence obtained by force and denied defendants their rights.
Around 60 prisoners might have to be transferred to other countries because they could face the death penalty at home, while others could be tried in US courts. Some may prove impossible to try, transfer or release.
Finnish Foreign Minister Alexander Stubb said the EU could face legal obstacles over refugee and humanitarian issues if some inmates apply for asylum or if they are considered at risk of persecution in their home countries.
"If there are some people who are not tried in the US in national tribunals and they get a refugee status, we’ll have to look at that individually," he said.
The EU also has to "look at this from a humanitarian, human rights perspective. If there are people who were not tried they are free but can’t go back to their own country. Europe should take our responsibility," he said.
His Luxembourg counterpart, Jean Asselborn, said: "They haven’t been charged with anything at all, for the moment in any case, so maybe they haven’t committed any crime."
For some European nations, divided by former president George W. Bush’s war in Iraq, Guantanamo is a US problem that America alone must fix.
Austria insists that accepting inmates poses legal problems and that it has received no request from the United States.
The German government is divided over the issue.
British Foreign Secretary David Miliband said London had already made a "significant contribution".
"We’ve already taken back nine of our citizens, we’ve committed to take back six of our residents, and in that sense we’ve done our bit. We’ve played an important role in showing that this can be done in a safe and secure way," he added.
A high-level EU delegation, including the bloc’s justice commissioner, Czech presidency and anti-terror coordinator, will travel to the United States in February to establish what help Washington needs.
"We need to have some European light shed on this," said French Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner, whose country could accept former prisoners on a case-by-case basis.