By Ingrid Melander
The United States must not allow its Bagram military base in Afghanistan to become a new Guantanamo Bay if it wants European Union help to close the prison on Cuba, EU officials said Thursday.
In one of his first acts in office, President Barack Obama ordered the closure within one year of Guantanamo Bay, where about 245 people are still detained and which has been widely viewed as a stain on the U.S. human rights record.
But Obama has yet to decide what to do about the jail at Bagram, where more than 600 prisoners are held, or whether to continue work on a $60 million prison complex there.
Washington wants the EU to help it close Guantanamo by agreeing to accept discharged prisoners who cannot be returned to their own countries for fear of torture.
But a confidential EU policy paper, obtained by Reuters, said such help would depend on Washington’s overall anti-terrorism policies, including assurances that Bagram or other camps would not become new Guantanamos.
“I would find it very surprising, if the (U.S.) policy remained the same while Guantanamo was closed, to see the EU mobilize itself,” EU anti-terrorism coordinator Gilles de Kerchove told Reuters.
The EU policy paper said: “It would not be in conformity with EU fundamental rights policies to simply transfer Guantanamo elsewhere (i.e. in Bagram) without solving the underlying question of the detention of terror suspects for indefinite time and without trial.”
An EU delegation will travel to Washington in mid-March to discuss the issue. The EU is keen to improve transatlantic ties, damaged by the 2003 war in Iraq, but countries are divided over whether to take in Guantanamo detainees cleared for release.
Some like Spain and Portugal have said they are willing to, while others like the Netherlands have said they are not.
The bloc’s interior ministers agreed Thursday that it would be up to each country to decide if it accepted former inmates but that they would try to arrange some coordination — at least sharing information on these individuals, Czech Interior Minister Ivan Langer told a news conference.
De Kerchove said it would be a long time before EU states got answers from Washington and took any decision.
One condition would be for EU states to be supplied with full information — whether classified or not — on any detainee they considered taking in, Langer said.
U.S. authorities have cleared several dozen prisoners for release, including 17 members of China’s Muslim Uighur minority. But they have remained at Guantanamo because U.S. officials fear they would be tortured if returned to China.
Langer and the EU policy paper said the United States should also take in some of the cleared detainees. “The responsibility of closing Guantanamo is first and foremost that of the United States,” the document said.
“The former inmates that could be taken in the EU are those who face no judicial charges, can be freed, cannot go back to their country of origin and want to be transferred to Europe.”
(Editing by David Brunnstrom and Mark Trevelyan)