Europeans Say U.S. Should Take Some Guantanamo Bay Detainees

German Interior Minister Wolfgang Schaeuble
German Interior Minister Wolfgang Schaeuble (Fritz Reiss - AP)
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By Craig Whitlock and Karen DeYoung
Washington Post Foreign Service
Friday, May 29, 2009

BERLIN, May 28 -- The Obama administration's push to resettle at least 50 Guantanamo Bay prisoners in Europe is meeting fresh resistance as European officials demand that the United States first give asylum to some inmates before they will do the same.

Rising opposition in the U.S. Congress to allowing Guantanamo prisoners on American soil has not gone over well in Europe. Officials from countries that previously indicated they were willing to accept inmates now say it may be politically impossible for them to do so if the United States does not reciprocate.

"If the U.S. refuses to take these people, why should we?" said Thomas Silberhorn, a member of the German Parliament from Bavaria, where the White House wants to relocate nine Chinese Uighur prisoners. "If all 50 states in America say, 'Sorry, we can't take them,' this is not very convincing."

Interior ministers from the 27-member European Union are pressing the Obama administration to agree to a joint declaration that would commit the United States to accept some prisoners, something Congress has been highly reluctant to do.

European officials involved in the negotiations said Obama administration officials had assured them that some detainees who are not considered security threats would be released in the United States, while others would be prosecuted in U.S. courts.

But now European governments are seeking fresh assurances that the White House will be able to follow through on its pledge, given recent opposition by Democratic and Republican leaders in Congress to permitting any prisoners on U.S. territory.

Congress has refused to authorize $80 million Obama wants to pay for closing the detention center at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, until he reveals exactly what he plans to do with the 240 prisoners held there.

In a speech last week, Obama said that some inmates would be tried in federal courts or military commissions and that others would probably be held in preventive detention, although he did not say where. U.S. courts have ordered that 21, including the Uighurs, be released, and there are 50 more "who we have determined can be safely transferred to another country," Obama said.

Several European countries, including Spain, Italy, Belgium, Switzerland and Portugal, said they were willing to give a new home to Guantanamo inmates after Obama announced in January that he would empty the prison within a year. Guantanamo has been a human rights sore point in Europe since President George W. Bush opened it in 2002.

Agreements to resettle individual prisoners, however, have been slow in coming. Britain and France have each accepted one Guantanamo prisoner since Obama took office, but no other arrangements have come to fruition.

German Assent Evaporated

Perhaps the thorniest case so far has involved a group of prisoners that many U.S. and European officials had thought would be the easiest to resolve: the Uighurs, members of a Muslim ethnic group from China.

There are 17 Uighurs at Guantanamo; all were captured in Afghanistan after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks. A U.S. federal judge ruled in October that none poses a security threat and that they should be freed. But American officials have struggled to find a place for them.

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