RSS
Guantánamo detainees: Not in Europe’s backyard
The complications Europeans discovered discussing a proposal to take Guantánamo detainees off President Obama's hands
S

o much for a new era of cooperation with the U.S., said Celia Marques Azevedo in Portugal’s Jornal de Noticias. EU foreign ministers met this week to discuss a Portuguese proposal that Europe show its goodwill toward President Obama by taking some of the Guantánamo detainees off his hands. Apparently, goodwill isn’t enough. The ministers quickly realized there are “complex legal and security problems” involved in giving asylum even to just the 60 detainees that the U.S. has declared non-threatening but who can’t return to their home countries because they risk torture or even death. They agreed only to continue to work on finding a solution.
 
But why should we? asked Jochim Stoltenberg in Germany’s Berliner Morgenpost. The U.S. is the one that “made a hypocrisy of Western values through its human-rights violations.” The principle of “you broke it, you fix it” should apply here. If the 60 detainees declared innocent “are really no threat, then there’s nothing to stop America from accepting them.” If they are dangerous, why should Europeans risk their own safety to clean up America’s mess?

Because to do otherwise is to display “moral cowardice,” said Britain’s Daily Telegraph in an editorial. As German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier said, “It’s a question of credibility.” Europeans clamored for the closure of the illegal detention center at Guantánamo Bay, so Europeans are morally obligated to help the U.S. achieve that end. Unfortunately, we are shirking our duty. Portugal and France have said they’ll consider taking prisoners on a case-by-case basis. Britain, though, says it already has taken in the 13 British detainees and is willing to take only two others who were previously residents here. Other countries, such as Spain, say they’re still on the fence.

This isn’t just a cop-out, said Spain’s ABC. The legal complexities are daunting. The detainees who are purportedly innocent would still have to be watched carefully upon their release. But most of the EU countries no longer have passport controls on their common borders, so a detainee released into one country could easily evade surveillance. Those detainees who are not so innocent pose an even thornier set of problems—if there is insufficient evidence to try them, yet they can’t be released, they would have to be kept in prison. But Spain and other European countries can’t imprison people “without a criminal complaint from our courts.” There is no legal framework here that would allow forced internment or even supervised probation of these people. And Europe is not prepared to create its own “softer version of Guántanamo.” For now, at least, the detainees remain America’s problem.

EDITORS' PICKS

THE WEEK'S AUDIOPHILE PODCASTS: LISTEN SMARTER

Subscribe to the Week