At the Camp 6 detention facility at Guantanamo Bay, an American soldier stands guard. (Photo: Getty Images)
Brussels boosts Obama's plan to close detention camp.
Brussels - European countries yesterday agreed terms for taking in dozens of detainees from GuantÃ¡namo Bay, boosting President Barack Obama's plan to close the detention camp.
After months of division over whether and how up to 60 detainees could take up residence in Europe, EU interior ministers meeting in Luxembourg agreed security guidelines and a mechanism for sharing information on the detainees.
Agreement means that iIndividual EU states will now be able to accommodate detainees who have been cleared for release but cannot be repatriated for fear they will be killed, tortured or jailed. They could take in "several dozen" detainees, said Martin Pecina, the Czech interior minister, who chaired the meeting.
The US has long been seeking new homes for about 60 inmates, with Washington stepping up the pressure from January when Obama announced the closure in one of the first statements of his presidency. This called Europe's bluff, since it has long deplored GuantÃ¡namo and needed to demonstrate support for the new US administration with more than words. While Spain and Portugal led about eight of the EU's 27 countries keen to help the Americans, there was resistance from Germany, Austria, the Netherlands and Scandinavian countries alarmed about security risks and the ease with which immigrants can travel around the 25 EU states which share the border-free Schengen regime.
Individual countries were split between political leaders keen to show willing with Obama and security establishments worried about taking in the detainees. "The security people have had the upper hand, highlighting the risks involved," said Anthony Dworkin, counter-terrorism expert at the European Council for Foreign Relations. "They argued that Europe did not make this problem, so why should it bear the risks. "
Yesterday's deal leaves it up to individual countries to decide whether to take inmates. Those that do have to furnish all other EU governments with intelligence information on the proposed immigrant and take account of objections.
The Dutch, said diplomats, also insisted on being able to invoke national law to bar a freed inmate from travelling from one EU country to another, despite Schengen.
The Europeans expect several of the detainees cleared for release to go to the US, while the European green light for accepting detainees could also raise pressure on Canada and Australia to follow suit.
Germany, for example, has argued that US federal states' reluctance to take in inmates should mean that European countries are not required to accommodate them. The Americans are pressing Berlin to allow in many of the 17 Uighurs, Chinese Muslims, held at GuantÃ¡namo and cleared for release.
Britain believes it has "done its bit" and is reluctant to accept more inmates. Since Obama made his closure pledge, Britain has accepted one former UK resident. There is one more former UK residentstill at GuantÃ¡namo, but the Americans have made no request for his acceptance by Britain. Under the Bush administration, Britain accepted a further 13 British citizens or residents. Britain and Ireland are not part of the Schengen area that extends from Portugal to Poland."It's a significant agreement because it puts a collective European stamp, a set of standards, and recognises that the US is rethinking its counter-terrorism policy in line with international law," said Dworkin.
The Europeans and the Americans are now expected to coordinate their counter-terrorism strategies by issuing a joint statement next month, following which the Americans will ask specific countries to take in certain individuals and also supply intelligence on their cases. The Americans want the problem solved by next January.
The European governments said they took yesterday's decision to show support for Obama's "thorough review of US counter-terrorism policies consistent with the rule of law and international law".