Should Europe help Obama out over Guantanamo?
Barely noticed, the United States sent a top diplomat to Europe this week to seek help on an important commitment by President Barack Obama — to close the Guantanamo Bay prison.
The trip by veteran envoy Dan Fried to Brussels and Prague is part of efforts to persuade European states to take in some of the 241 remaining detainees at the prison, synonomous for many with rights abuses in the “war on terror” under U.S. President George W. Bush.
Europe has long called for the jail to be shut down, but only a few countries — such as France, Portugal and Albania — have volunteered to resettle any inmates from third countries such as Afghanistan or China.
Time is steadily running out if Obama is to achieve his goal of clearing and closing the prison by next January. A perceived lack of European help could sour the much-vaunted new start in transatlantic ties which both sides say they want.
But many European officials are asking why they should help the United States out of a hole it dug itself into.
The main problem does not involve the small number of so-called high-value terror suspects in the camp — they will remain in detention and Washington does not seriously expect anyone to come forward and take them off its hands.
Nor does it involve the 17 detainees who have already been cleared for release. The really hot issue is the fate of the remaining detainees who are not high risk but have not been given the full all-clear.
European officials fear the affair could turn into a legal and political nightmare. Who will take which detainees? Given that much of Europe is now border-free, how will one country reassure its neighbours if it agrees to resettle inmates? And doesn’t the fact that European states have different national policies on surveillance and detention pose extra problems?
Worse still, the political fall-out could be devastating. If , for example, a former Guantanamo Bay prisoner carried out an attack in Germany just before an election this year, how would Chancellor Angela Merkel explain it to voters?
Washington knows it won’t be easy to get the Europeans on board. But it says it would be hypocritical for Europe now not to help after all its criticism of Guantanamo.
It also points out that some of the Europeans who are now raising concerns over security were not so long ago saying most of the Guantanamo Bay prisoners were innocent.
Washington hopes to encourage EU justice and home affairs ministers to at least agree a common line on the need to help it with Guantanamo at a regular meeting scheduled for June. Then it will approach individual countries for negotiations on resettling specific cases.
Is it time for Europe tocome forward and help Obama or is this one file on which it is advised to stay clear?