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Europe Seen Willing to Take Detainees: Holder Says He's 'Pleasantly Surprised'
He said U.S. officials would soon make formal requests to individual countries to resettle specific inmates. Though he did not provide an exact timetable, he said the requests would come in "weeks, not months."
After a three-day European tour during which he met with officials in London, Prague and Berlin, Holder said he was "pleasantly surprised" at the number of countries willing to consider taking prisoners. "We haven't received as many definite no's as I might have expected," he said.
British officials, for example, appeared to soften their position in recent days. During Holder's visit to London, Justice Secretary Jack Straw said Britain would consider taking some prisoners. "We will do our best to help," Straw said.
In February, Britain accepted one prisoner, an Ethiopian citizen who had lived in the United Kingdom. But at the time, British officials had said they would accept only one other Guantanamo inmate: Shaker Aamer, a Saudi citizen and former British resident captured in Afghanistan in January 2002. Pentagon officials have opposed releasing Aamer.
Of the 241 prisoners remaining in Guantanamo, about 100 are Yemenis, but U.S. officials are reluctant to allow them to return home because Yemen has a history of allowing al-Qaeda suspects to escape from prison. An undetermined number of other inmates will face trial in U.S. civilian courts, Holder said.
While Holder declined to say how many prisoners he hopes Europe will accept, other U.S. officials and human rights groups have put the number at about 60. Portugal, Ireland, Switzerland, Spain and Lithuania have said they are willing to resettle inmates but are not expected to take more than three or four each, according to European officials.
During a meeting with Obama this month, French President Nicolas Sarkozy said his country had agreed to resettle one prisoner; U.S. officials want France to take more.
Although French officials have not publicly disclosed the identity of the prisoner in question, other European officials and human rights groups said he is Lakhdar Boumediene, an Algerian citizen who was captured by the U.S. military in Sarajevo in 2001.
Germany has sent mixed signals. Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier has said Germany has a "responsibility" to resettle prisoners as part of an international effort to close Guantanamo. But Interior Minister Wolfgang Schaeuble has said he is opposed. Holder met with Schaeuble on Wednesday in Berlin but declined to comment on the talks.