EU seals deal on Guantanamo inmates
Luxembourg -- Movement restrictions will be placed on Guantanamo inmates accepted by European nations under an agreement made by EU interior ministers on Thursday, diplomats said.
The agreement in principle could send an important signal to the United States that the EU wants to help close the notorious "war on terror" prison at Guantanamo Bay in Cuba, diplomats said.
It would oblige governments which accept detainees from Guantanamo "to take appropriate measure to ensure they do not compromise public order and internal security" in other EU countries, a diplomat said.
This means limits would be set on residency permits any former inmate gets, the diplomats explained.
Normally, having been held in Guantanamo would not be reason enough to restrict someone’s movement, and this would only be done based on reliable and specific evidence that someone poses a threat.
Indeed individual EU nations have agreed only to accept detainees who are "cleared for release" by the US authorities.
Officials say that no legal definition of the "cleared for release" status exists, although experts concur that it usually means former detainees who the US authorities do not plan to prosecute.
Austria, Germany and Italy have expressed concern at the idea of having former detainees roaming free inside the 25-nation Schengen zone, where formal passport controls have been dropped.
"We have to be sure that (the detainees) pose no risk," German Interior Minister Wolfgang Schauble told reporters.
"If they do not pose any risk, we need to clarify why they cannot remain in the United States," he said. "If the Americans don’t want them, then they have to explain to the Europeans why the rules are different for Europe."
Under the deal, any of the 27 nations which might accept to help close Guantanamo by letting in former prisoners would inform its neighbours of its intentions and listen to any complaints, officials said.
Individual EU nations can alone decide whether to host "cleared for release" inmates from the prison — where suspects are often held without trial or charge — and that no country could veto them.
But the fact that countries will be able to refuse the prisoners entry into their territories — as Italy has threatened to do — means there will be costs for surveillance and restrictions on their movement.
Other costs would come through family reunification — a pillar of European asylum policy — which would entitle those allowed in to have their loved ones follow them.
Obama has urged countries to help host up to 60 of the 245 inmates, but a team is now carefully re-assessing who is "cleared for release".
"On the face of it, those who are accepted are free of any charges, but precautions will probably have to be taken," EU Justice Commissioner Jacques Barrot told reporters.
National laws differ very widely among the 27 EU countries and they have struggled to define a common position on how best to help Obama. None want to be bound to host inmates held under such circumstances and for so long.
The talks come at a politically sensitive time, with European Parliament elections underway.