(Washington DC) - European countries should help the Obama administration close the Guantanamo Bay prison by offering to resettle some detainees who face torture at home, Human Rights Watch said today. US Attorney General Eric Holder is in Europe this week to discuss Guantanamo resettlement and other issues.
"European countries have long called on the United States to close Guantanamo," said Stacy Sullivan, counterterrorism adviser at Human Rights Watch. "Now that the Obama administration is trying to do so, they should help make that happen by resettling some detainees."
Of the approximately 240 prisoners still being held at Guantanamo, an estimated 50 to 60 - from countries such as Algeria, Libya, China, Tunisia, and Uzbekistan - have told their lawyers that they fear torture in their home countries and do not want to be returned there. Several have been cleared for years to leave Guantanamo, and none of them faces criminal charges, but they remain imprisoned because neither the United States nor any third country has been willing to resettle them.
Several European governments have expressed a willingness to resettle some of these detainees, although only if the United States first takes in some. According to media reports, the Obama administration is preparing to allow seven Chinese Uighur detainees to settle in the United States.
"The US would be in a much better position to convince European countries to resettle Guantanamo detainees if it agreed to take in some of the Uighurs," said Sullivan.
There are currently 17 Chinese Uighurs in custody at Guantanamo, most of whom have been cleared to leave Guantanamo since 2004, but were not returned to China due to credible fears that they would be tortured."
In 2006, Albania agreed to resettle eight Guantanamo detainees who feared being returned to their home countries, including five Uighurs. In addition, some 27 former detainees who were citizens or former residents of European Union member states have been returned to Belgium, Denmark, France, Germany, Spain, Sweden, and the United Kingdom. Thirteen detainees who were citizens or former residents were released to other European countries. None are known to have engaged in militant or other violent activity.
"If every EU country would agree to resettle two or three detainees, the hardest part of the Guantanamo problem would be solved," said Sullivan.