x Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 22 July 2017

EU gingerly opens door to detainees

Guantanamo inmates will receive a cautious welcome in Europe, despite Washington's reluctance to allow any to settle in the US.

Salahidin Abdulahat, a former Guantanamo detainee, takes a swim in Bermuda, his new home.
Salahidin Abdulahat, a former Guantanamo detainee, takes a swim in Bermuda, his new home.

WASHINGTON // As the deadline for closing the US prison in Cuba looms, some detainees are finding new homes. Notably, none so far has been in the United States. Following a meeting on Monday with Silvio Berlusconi, the Italian premier, Barack Obama announced that Italy agreed to accept three detainees. Earlier in the day, the European Union broadly agreed to accept detainees as part of an effort to help Mr Obama "turn the page" of the counter-terrorism policies of the Bush years. In a joint statement with the United States, the EU said each of its 27 member nations will be able to decide for themselves whether to accept detainees. It did not name specific countries or how many detainees would be resettled there. The United States has been searching for countries to take in 50 detainees deemed safe for transfer to another country by US courts. But reluctance by the United States to settle detainees on its own soil has hampered efforts by the Obama administration to convince European allies to take them in. US legislators from both parties have argued that transferring the detainees to the United States could threaten the country's national security. "A lot of European countries have regarded the US willingness to resettle detainees here as the ante they expect the US to pay in order for them to play ball," said Benjamin Wittes, a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution in Washington and author of Law and the Long War: The Future of Justice in the Age of Terror. Finding homes for Guantanamo detainees is one of many complicated issues Mr Obama has been forced to confront since announcing his plans to shutter the prison, which has become a toxic symbol around the world. The president has come under fire for not providing a detailed plan for dealing with the 240 or so remaining detainees. Last week, the United States released four Uighurs, Chinese Muslim men who were picked up in Pakistan and Afghanistan in 2002, to Bermuda, a British territory in the North Atlantic Ocean. Britain's foreign secretary, David Miliband, says he has complained to the US secretary of state, Hillary Clinton, about Britain not being consulted about the arrangement. Britain handles defence, security and foreign policy for Bermuda. Thirteen more Uighurs will soon be resettled in Palau, a remote Pacific archipelago. An Iraqi and a Chadian, meanwhile, were also released last week to their home countries. The 17 Uighurs - among 21 Guantanamo prisoners that US courts have ordered released - were the most likely to be settled in the United States, according to analysts. A Uighur community in the Washington area had been preparing to accept them. The Obama administration had already ruled out sending them home to China, where they are considered terrorists and could face persecution. The United States is said to be close to a deal to transfer 100 Yemeni detainees - still believed to pose a national security threat - to Saudi Arabia, where they would remain in detention and undergo a form of "rehabilitation" designed to reintegrate them into society. That plan also has its share of critics, however, after a Pentagon report in January showed that 61 former Guantanamo detainees sent to Saudi Arabia for rehabilitation had returned to terrorism. Mr Obama has outlined a plan to send some detainees to US courts; others, accused of violating the laws of war, will be sent to military tribunals. Mr Obama and his attorney general, Eric Holder, believe detainees convicted in US courts should be sent to federal prisons, but face stiff opposition from members of both parties who worry about endangering Americans. Sam Brownback, a Republican senator from Kansas, for example, has vigorously opposed the potential transfer of detainees to his state, which is home to Fort Leavenworth, the defence department's only maximum-security prison. "Fort Leavenworth was designed for regular prisoners, not detainees," Mr Brownback said in a statement on his website. "We cannot force-fit detainees in Leavenworth or in other prisons in the US." Perhaps the most difficult question Mr Obama faces is what to do with the prisoners who pose a threat to national security but who cannot be prosecuted. In some cases, evidence may be tainted by accusations of torture. Mr Obama said in a speech last month that he will review such cases individually, but offered no details. "There are no neat or easy answers," he said. sstanek@thenational.ae