Ireland boosts Europe role in accepting Gitmo inmates
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DUBLIN -- Ireland's agreement yesterday to take two homeless Guantanamo prisoners demonstrates that patient diplomacy between the United States and Europe is starting to play its part in shutting down the notorious U.S. prison.
Daniel Fried, the Obama administration's special envoy tasked with closing the camp, is back in Europe this week, seeking to build on a European Union agreement clearing the way for any member of the 27-nation bloc to accept prisoners who could face persecution in their homelands.
While most European states remain frosty to the idea of taking Guantanamo prisoners off U.S. hands, a growing number of nations -- including Belgium, Finland, Hungary, Italy, Portugal and Spain -- say they definitely or probably will take at least one of the approximately 50 prisoners.
Ireland is the second EU nation, after France, to make a firm commitment to take particular prisoners. Slovenia is the next stop on Mr. Fried's European tour.
The moves offer ammunition to critics of the U.S. lawmakers who, faced with strong opposition from their home districts, have opposed any Guantanamo resettlements on mainland U.S. soil.
The human rights watchdog Amnesty International says many European nations have complained about the illegality and injustice of the internments without trial in Guantanamo -- and now must step up. It lauded Ireland's commitment within the next two months to take two Uzbek men, who would likely face torture and reimprisonment if sent back.
The action was announced yesterday by Irish Justice Minister Dermot Ahern, as he met U.S. Ambassador Dan Rooney. Mr. Ahern declined to identify either detainee, but said the two belong to a group of about 50 prisoners "no longer regarded as posing a threat to security, but who cannot return to their own countries."
Other government and Amnesty officials confirmed that both detainees come from Uzbekistan and were seized in neighboring Afghanistan in bitterly disputed circumstances in 2001. Last week, Irish officials visited Washington and Guantanamo to negotiate terms of the Uzbeks' transfer.
"While Guantanamo is the responsibility of the United States, other countries made it possible," said Colm O'Gorman, executive director of Amnesty's operations in Ireland. "They allowed people to be transferred through their territory, actively participated in illegal detentions and kidnapping or, as in Ireland's case, they allowed their territory to be used as a staging area for rendition operations.
"Those countries that played a part in the system should follow Ireland's example and help shut it down," he said.
Britain and France say they want to restrict their intake of ex-Guantanamo prisoners to people with citizenship or residency ties. Nonetheless, France in May became the first EU member to take a foreign ex-prisoner, a 43-year-old man from its former colonial possession Algeria.
Others, like Germany and the Sweden, say they have taken many refugees from earlier conflicts and expect the United States to explain why its mainland shouldn't be the first port of call for all of Guantanamo's homeless.
Gitanjali Gutierrez, an attorney with the Center for Constitutional Rights in New York, said Congress members opposing any detainee resettlements in the United States should be embarrassed by Europe's willingness to help.
First Published July 30, 2009 12:00 am