David Cronin

Sixty of the remaining detainees in Guantanamo Bay should be given new homes in the European Union, human rights campaigners have urged. Interior ministers representing the 27-country Union will meet in Brussels Feb 26 to discuss whether they should resettle the detainees in the US prison camp, all of whom have been cleared for release. Organisations working for the closure of Guantanamo are calling on the ministers to offer a safe haven to the 60 men as they fear persecution or torture if they are returned to their native lands. Even though the prison camp in Cuba is the responsibility of the American authorities, the campaigners say there is a moral onus on Europe to help ensure it is emptied of detainees. Many European Union governments are known to have colluded in “extraordinary rendition”, a clandestine arrest and torture programme run by the United States’ Central Intelligence Agency.

“Europe does not have clean hands here,” said Zachary Katznelson from the British anti-torture organisation Reprieve, who acts as a lawyer to 30 prisoners in Guantanamo. “Europe has played a dirty, dirty role as well by letting planes (chartered by the CIA) criss-cross its airspace and letting them refuel here.” France, Ireland, Finland, Germany, Latvia, Estonia, Spain, Portugal and Lithuania have all expressed a willingness to allow the men settle in Europe. Yet others such as the Netherlands, Austria and Denmark are reluctant to do so. American President Barack Obama has vowed to make the closure of Guantanamo a priority; last month he signed an executive order stating that it would be shut within a year.

The 60 men concerned are among the 240 still being held in Guantanamo, a centre synonymous with the human rights abuses carried out as part of the “war on terror” declared by former president George W. Bush. Unlike about other 150 detainees who have also been cleared for release, the men — hailing from such countries as Egypt, Algeria, China, Uzbekistan, Libya and Tunisia — have stated that it would be unsafe for them to go home. No charges of terrorism or other criminal offences have been brought against the 60 men.

Katznelson said that he had reviewed confidential papers relating to the men. Though he is forbidden from speaking about the contents of these files, he said: “What’s not there is evidence that these men present a threat to you and me if they are here on the streets today.” “Europe’s role in Guantanamo is extensive,” said Camilla Jelbart from Amnesty International. “Now is the time to collectively close this dark chapter in history.”

But she noted that European countries have so far not provided concrete assistance in resettling detainees who have been cleared for release. The Bush administration had previously approached over 100 governments, asking them to find homes for a group of ethnic Uighurs from China. Albania, a country outside the European Union, was the only country in Europe that agreed to take some of the detainees involved.