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RIGHTS: EU Urged to Take Guantanamo Men

David Cronin

BRUSSELS, Feb 24 2009 (IPS) - 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 U.S. 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 U.S. authorities, the campaigners say there is a moral onus on Europe to help ensure it is emptied of detainees. Many EU governments are known to have colluded in ‘extraordinary rendition’, a clandestine arrest and torture programme run by the U.S. 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. U.S. 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.”

This week a man released to Britain after more than four years in Guantanamo alleged that the British intelligence services had supplied questions to his CIA interrogators. Binyam Mohamed, an Ethiopian national who lived in the United Kingdom, was abducted in secret in Morocco, where he claims to have been tortured. Reprieve, which is providing him legal advice, says there is “zero doubt” that Britain was complicit in his ill- treatment.

Another detainee who has lived in Britain is Algerian-born Ahmed Belbacha. After being threatened by Islamic extremists in Algeria, he sought asylum in the UK in 1999 but his application was rejected. He then moved to Pakistan where he was arrested.

“The UK has refused to help him, so he sits in Guantanamo in a steel box two metres by three metres,” said Katznelson. “It is like being buried alive in an above-ground grave.”

“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 EU, was the only country in Europe that agreed to take some of the detainees involved.

Irena Sabic, spokeswoman for the Centre for Constitutional Rights in the U.S., referred to the plight of Abdul Ra’ouf Al-Qassim. Fleeing Libya after deserting the national army, into which he had been conscripted, he was living in Afghanistan when the U.S. began to bomb that country in October 2001. After moving to Pakistan, he was handed over to the U.S. authorities, which promised sizeable rewards to anyone who helped them apprehend suspected members of the extremist network Al-Qaeda.

Cleared for release in 2006, Al-Qassim’s lawyers have contested his deportation to Libya. In what Sabic described as “an absurd and tragic situation,” Al-Qassim has stated that he would prefer to remain in Guantanamo than to be sent to his country of origin. “Two other Libyans transferred out of Guantanamo where immediately imprisoned and have been held without charge, without access to lawyers and without the prospect of a trial,” noted Sabic. “For all we know, they could be dead. That kind of fate awaits Abdul Ra’ouf if he is returned.”

 
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