Europeans Cheer Ruling on Guantanamo Trials

By Craig Whitlock
Washington Post Foreign Service
Friday, June 30, 2006

BERLIN, June 29 -- In Europe, where the Bush administration has taken a diplomatic beating over its prison at Guantanamo Bay, the U.S. Supreme Court's ruling Thursday was received with cheers and fueled hopes that the detention center's days are numbered.

At the same time, European leaders acknowledged that the court's decision would also increase pressure on their own governments to help their U.S. ally find a solution to an increasingly thorny problem: what to do with the prisoners who are no longer considered a threat but effectively have nowhere to go.

Although a long list of European lawmakers and human rights groups have demanded that the U.S. government shut down the Guantanamo prison as soon as possible, three European countries -- Britain, Bosnia and Germany -- have balked at requests to accept citizens or former residents who are stuck in Cuba, even though there is evidence they do not pose a security risk.

The State Department struggled for almost two years to find a place to resettle ethnic Uighur Muslims held at Guantanamo, after determining that they could be unfairly prosecuted in their native China. Last month, five Uighurs were sent to the Balkan nation of Albania, after most other European nations had rejected the U.S. request for help.

Calls in Europe to shutter Guantanamo have become louder in recent months, particularly since U.S. officials announced that three detainees had committed suicide at the camp on June 10. Last week, during a summit with European Union leaders in Vienna, President Bush preempted what was expected to be a public squabble over Guantanamo by saying he, too, wanted to close the detention center but was waiting for guidance from the Supreme Court on how to proceed.

At least 19 detainees from Europe have been released and sent to their home countries, where some have been arrested. A dozen others who have citizenship or residency status in Europe remain at Guantanamo, in part because their governments don't want them or have declined to intervene on their behalf.

Manfred Nowak, an Austrian law professor and the U.N. special rapporteur on torture, predicted that the Supreme Court decision would clear the way for Guantanamo to close by the end of the year.

"Europe should help empty it," said Nowak, who issued a strongly critical report on conditions at Guantanamo for the United Nations in February. "No country is eager to accept people who are accused of having al-Qaeda links. But there should be burden-sharing."

"I would agree with President Bush on this: Criticism is fine, but it should be constructive criticism and that means Europe should help the U.S. develop a plan of action," he said.

The difficulty of sending some detainees back to their native countries was underscored Thursday when Nowak declared on a fact-finding mission to Amman, Jordan, that "torture is systematically practiced" by the Jordanian intelligence and security agencies. Four Jordanian citizens remain at Guantanamo, and human rights groups have warned that they could be abused if returned home.

Anne-Marie Lizin, president of the Belgian Senate and leader of a European inspection team that visited Guantanamo in March, said it would be possible to "dismantle" the detention center by the end of the year. But she said Europe would have to help.

"It's easy to put all the blame on the U.S.," said Lizin, who is scheduled to present findings of her trip Friday in Washington on behalf of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe. "Europe is also responsible. In the first year of the Afghan war, everyone was in favor of being strong. The problem came in 2004, when it became clear that the question of what would happen to Guantanamo would not be so easy to answer."


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