EU nations to take Gitmo detainees

WASHINGTON: The United States has secured promises from a clutch of European nations to take in detainees held at Guantanamo Bay, bolstering efforts to close the prison, the Washington Post reported Thursday.

In total nine European Union countries are in talks to resettle detainees, the newspaper said, citing unnamed officials in President Barack Obama's administration.

Four of the countries are "committed" to rehousing prisoners already cleared for release and currently being held at the detention camp on the US naval base in southeast Cuba, the daily said. Five other nations are considering the move.

There are still 229 prisoners at the camp, opened in January 2002 by former president George W. Bush to hold "enemy combatants" in the US "war on terror." Obama has ordered the camp to be closed by January 22, 2010.

Some 80 prisoners are ready for release, and the Post said if resettling agreements could be made, a reduced detainee population will likely ease the political charged debate on moving remaining prisoners to a facility on US soil.

This month Portugal joined Bermuda, France, Ireland, Bermuda and the Pacific archipelago of Palau in agreeing to accept detainees.

Australia and Georgia have held "positive talks" with the Obama administration on taking in detainees, the Post said, citing US officials.

The administration has also already formally approached or plans to talk with a number of South American nations as well as countries in the Persian Gulf, the Balkans and the former Soviet Union on the issue, according to the daily.

Although facing stiff opposition at home to bringing detainees over to US soil, officials told the newspaper that domestic politics haven't caused an issue in the talks, specifically in the European Union.

"Obama has a lot of political capital. Countries want to do something for him, and that allows us to say, 'This is it, this is what we want you to do,'" said a senior administration official quoted in the report. "This is going a lot better than we might have thought."

Obama's decision earlier this year to prosecute some detainees in reformed versions of Bush-era military commissions and try others in US federal courts has met with growing opposition.

Human rights groups say the commissions violate detainees' legal rights and remain unconvinced by the administration's promise to refer as many cases as possible to civilian courts.