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Europe Debates Asylum For Guantanamo Detainees

European leaders have welcomed President Barack Obama's decision to shut down the prison at Guantanamo Bay. But now they are being asked to offer asylum to some of the 245 detainees.

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton likely will raise the issue again when she meets her European colleagues in Brussels on Thursday.

It's going to be a hard sell — even after years of discussions on the subject between the U.S. and Europe.


If returned to their homelands, the detainees could face prison or torture. Europe is considering how they would be screened and which countries would take them — and under what conditions.

Simon Koschut of the German Council for Foreign Relations says the limited number of internal borders means there would have to be a general agreement.

"Any inmate that would come to a European country could travel from one country to another without being controlled by visa regulations, so we have to find a common European position," he says.

That's the rub. Spain, Portugal, France and Italy are willing to take some detainees. Britain says it has done its part by taking in 14. But in Germany, it's an election year and politicians are divided. Chancellor Angela Merkel's Christian Democratic Union is reluctant, while the Social Democrats are more flexible.

A high-level EU delegation will go to Washington soon for more detailed information from U.S. officials.


Koschut says the Europeans will want the U.S. to open up all detainee files.

"The Americans will have to explain what kind of risks these people pose, why they can't be allowed to enter [the] U.S., why they have to go to Europe, why they can't be sent back to their home countries — and the U.S. has to sort of give a, not a guarantee but almost a guarantee, that these people do not pose a threat anymore," he says.

Other questions nagging the Europeans include who would pay for resettlement and the detainees' medical care — and whether some of them would be prosecuted or imprisoned.

Italy's leading anti-terrorism magistrate, Armando Spataro, has already singled out some inmates.

"We know of at least three Guantanamo detainees who have arrest warrants pending here," he says. "I believe the United States could simply extradite them to Italy where they would be tried in our courts."

Resettlement of former inmates raises other questions — like whether their freedom of movement should be curtailed and whether they should be put under surveillance.

Tomas Valasek of the London-based Center for European Reform, says these are serious civil liberties issues.

"If a prisoner has been absolved of all crimes, what right do the governments have to keep monitoring him? Isn't this a softer form of what the U.S. did in Guantanamo — in other words, a perpetual banishment of sorts without due trial?" he says.

Human rights organizations say Europe has a moral duty to offer asylum to Guantanamo detainees because, they claim, some governments bear responsibility by having allegedly helped transport some suspects to the U.S. prison.

But Valasek says that, in the minds of the public, anyone detained at Guantanamo is seen as a potential terrorist.

"There is political reluctance to take prisoners, whether they are safe or not. It is not a particularly popular issue in terms of domestic politics. European publics will be reluctant to take anyone who has even cast of shadow of suspicion," he says.

For years, European governments harshly criticized the existence of Guantanamo. Its closure now poses new challenges for America's allies — in the realms of international law, security and domestic politics.

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