EU questions US on Guantánamo

A delegation from the European Union questioned the Obama administration about Guantánamo Bay, as member countries weigh whether to accept a United States request to take some of the detainees when the controversial prison is shut.

Jacques Barrot, the EU’s justice and home affairs commissioner, and Czech Interior Minister Ivan Langer presented US Attorney General Eric Holder on Monday with a detailed list of questions about security risks, the inmates and their detentions.

The officials also asked “whether the administration has decided never to do this again, never to have another Guantánamo”, Barrot said.

He said the officials also discussed other US detention facilities, including one at the Bagram Air Field in Afghanistan.

“The contacts we had today seem to show us that the US government has a clear intention to break with practices of the past,” he said.

Langer said the officials did not include conditions the US would have to meet for European countries to accept detainees.

“We passed to Holder a clear message,” Barrot said. “We have come here to listen and to lend a helping hand if needed.”

Obama announced in January that he plans to close the much-criticised facility within a year. The US has said that many of the inmates will have to go to countries other than their homelands, where they might face abuse, imprisonment or death.

Such a policy could test the US relationship with some EU allies.

While some European countries have already promised to accept detainees, others remain wary of security risks and legal quandaries posed by individuals who have been held under conditions Europeans have criticised as illegitimate.

About 250 detainees are still held, some without charge, at the facility, which the Bush administration set up after the September 11 2001 attacks to hold so-called “enemy combatants” accused of links to the al-Qaeda terror network or the Taliban.

Langer, whose country holds the EU’s rotating presidency, stressed that decisions on accepting detainees will be made by individual member countries, not by the EU.
But because the 23 member countries share a common passport-free zone, all of the countries have an interest in understanding the security risks.

Some in Europe have expressed concern that the US might not share the full range of information on the inmates and their detention before transferring them.

The two European officials said they made clear that Europe wants complete answers and information on all of the detainees still held, regardless of whether the individuals are being considered for transfer to Europe.

Langer said that it was now up to the US to determine how fast issues of cooperation on detainees could be resolved.

The two officials said they also met Monday with Deputy Secretary of State James Steinberg, who proposed drafting a document on anti-terrorism cooperation.

The Europeans expect to discuss other issues, including visa-free travel for all EU members and EU data protection concerns with other US officials on Tuesday.—Sapa-AP

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