5th Mar 2024

EU welcomes Obama's Guantanamo move

US President Barack Obama has requested the suspension of all military tribunals at Guantanamo Bay - a first step to closing the detainee camp - within hours of being sworn is as the country's leader, with European countries expected to take inmates who will not stand trial through normal processes in the US.

At the request of the US president, the Department of Defence asked late Tuesday evening (20 January) to a suspend for 120 days all trials pending in the Guantanamo military courts.

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  • Guantanamo inmates could be released soon, if the Europeans step in (Photo: Wikipedia)

Barack Obama had promised during his campaign to close down the camp for alleged terrorism suspects, which was set up seven years ago by the previous Bush administration at a US military base in Cuba.

Of the 245 inmates still held there, only 21 men were facing criminal charges (including the five alleged plotters of the 11 September 2001 attacks).

The military tribunals lack sufficient legal protection for defendants, Eric Holder, the president's nominee for attorney general, has said.

President Obama's team is to evaluate the legal possibilities to transfer the cases from the suspended military tribunals to regular US courts.

EU countries have been calling on the US for a long time to close down Guantanamo, but most seem reluctant to take inmates who risk torture or other serious violations of their human rights if they return to their home countries.

"We didn't catch these people. We didn't put them into prison," Czech foreign minister Karel Schwarzenberg, representing the rotating EU presidency, told the European Parliament's foreign affairs committee on Tuesday (20 January).

"First we should ask the USA how many [detainees] they will keep," he said, adding that only afterward could there be discussions regarding the number of inmates the EU could take in.

The previous day, the president of the European Parliament, Hans-Gert Poettering, had called on EU countries to help Mr Obama close down Guantanamo by taking inmates, echoing similar requests from Europe's human rights watchdog, the Council of Europe.

Also speaking before Mr Obama's inauguration, EU commissioner for justice, Jacques Barrot, said on Euronews that closing down Guantanamo was "a chance for a new partnership between Europe and the US."

EU foreign ministers are to discuss the issue officially for the first time at a meeting in Brussels on 26 January.

Portugal and Great Britain are among the few European countries offering asylum to the Guantanamo detainees, while France has also pledged to do the same, but on a case-by-case basis.

Germany is divided, with Social Democrat foreign minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier in favour of the idea, but conservative interior minister Wolfgang Schaeuble opposed.

The Netherlands, Austria, Denmark and Sweden are reluctant to step in, according to news agencies.

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