EU to help Obama close Guantánamo

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The Union’s foreign affairs ministers will discuss, on 26 January, how to help US President-elect Barack Obama close the controversial Guantánamo detention camp by accepting the relocation of former inmates on EU soil, a Council source confirmed today (13 January).

Upon the initiative of Portugal, foreign ministers from the 27-member bloc will debate helping the new US president to carry out the highly political move, a Council source told EURACTIV. 

Obama is expected to issue an executive order to close the camp at Guantánamo Bay during his first day in office. The development marks a massive departure away from the position of his neo-conservative predecessor, George W. Bush, towards a rapprochement with European positions regarding the treatment of suspected terrorists. 

The US administration is planning to transfer around 150 of the remaining 248 prisoners to other countries, the US press reported. As EU counter-terrorism chief Gilles de Kerchove recently revealed in an exclusive interview with EURACTIV, the Union has been in talks with Washington about harbouring Guantánamo inmates on its soil for some time. 

Portugal has already offered to take in Guantánamo residents inmates that have been cleared for release but cannot be sent to their countries of origin due to security concerns. Portuguese Foreign Minister Luis Amado sent a letter to his EU counterparts urging them to do the same. 

Germany and Ireland have already indicated their readiness to follow Portugal’s example, the Council source said. France, which recently agreed to take in former FARC guerrillas from Colombia, is also expected to join the group. 

The Union has been a fierce critic of the Bush administration over Guantánamo and it should thus be prepared to help Obama abandon the controversial policies of his predecessor, the Council source said. This will be the most important argument that the EU counterterrorism chief is expected to use to suuport his demands, he added. 

The Czech EU Presidency confirmed the time and venue of the debate, but declined to comment on whether Prague would also commit to the relocation effort. A spokesperson insisted that there was still no common EU position and stressed that the presidency’s role was to help put together such a position rather than take sides itself by making commitments. 

Indeed, reaching a common European position appears to be an unrealistic goal. Some EU countries, including Sweden and the Netherlands, have already ruled out accepting Guantánamo detainees at present. 

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