Spain to accept five Guantanamo detainees

By Peter Finn
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, February 16, 2010; A04

Spain announced Monday it will accept five detainees held at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, the largest commitment by a European country and a boost for the Obama administration's dragging effort to close the military detention center.

Foreign Minister Miguel Ángel Moratinos told reporters in Madrid that the detainees will not pose a security threat and that any transfers to Spain "will be done with all the legal guarantees so as to defend the security situation that our country requires."

Spain previously agreed to accept two detainees, a Yemeni and a Palestinian. They have been cleared for release by an inter-agency panel that reviewed the cases of each detainee held at Guantanamo Bay.

Spanish officials told reporters that they still expect to accept the Yemeni and the Palestinian, and that they are examining the files of other prisoners cleared for release and will take three more.

The Obama administration has resettled 24 detainees, including 15 to Europe, two of whom are awaiting trial in Italy. Nine European countries have taken in detainees in the past year.

The administration has also repatriated 24 detainees to Yemen, Afghanistan, Saudi Arabia, Kuwait and elsewhere.

It has transferred one detainee to federal court in New York for trial on terrorism charges relating to the 1998 embassy bombings in East Africa.

The administration has also received commitments from other European countries, including Latvia and Bulgaria, to take detainees. Other announcements might be forthcoming, an administration official said recently.

There are 192 detainees being held at Guantanamo Bay. Approximately 110 have been cleared for resettlement in a third country or for repatriation.

The Obama administration did not close the military detention center within a self-imposed one-year deadline. It faced congressional and other political opposition to moving detainees into the United States for prosecution or to be held in indefinite detention.

The administration has also suspended the repatriation of Yemeni detainees because of instability in their home country, where the government is battling a branch of al-Qaeda. There are about 90 Yemeni detainees at Guantanamo Bay; about two-thirds of them have been cleared for transfer, but only if conditions in Yemen improve.

Obama last year named veteran diplomat Daniel Fried as a special envoy to work with other nations to accept Guantanamo Bay detainees. His efforts have had some success -- he had met recently with Spanish officials -- despite fears that other countries will not accept detainees for resettlement if the United States is unwilling to do the same.

U.S. officials said some countries are nonetheless eager to be seen to help Obama, and many share his commitment to close the facility at Guantanamo Bay.

In the case of Spain, the government of Prime Minister José Luis Rodríguez Zapatero wants to restore good relations with the United States. Ties had frayed after Zapatero withdrew Spanish troops from Iraq in 2004, a decision that infuriated the Bush administration.

Staff researcher Julie Tate contributed to this report.

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