Ireland’s offer to accept Guantánamo detainees must be matched

Amnesty International has called on other European governments to follow Ireland’s lead in offering to accept a small number of Guantánamo detainees who the USA will release, but cannot be returned to their home countries due to fears they would face human rights violations there.  In an interview with CNN, Taoiseach [Prime Minister] Brian Cowen stated that “it is incumbent on us, those who called for [Guantánamo’s] closure, to assist the United States in ensuring that certain prisoners are relocated elsewhere.” A spokesperson for Amnesty International welcomed the statement by Mr Cowen and called for similar action from others. “This strong statement by the Irish Taoiseach must now be matched by other governments in Europe and, above all, by concrete and swift action by the USA to end the unlawful detention of the men still held at Guantánamo,” said Daniel Gorevan of Amnesty International’s Counter Terror With Justice campaign. European Union (EU) officials travelled to Washington DC to discuss the possibility of Guantánamo detainees who the USA does not intend to charge and cannot be returned to their home countries being offered protection in European countries. EU Justice Commissioner Jacques Barrot stated that the USA had raised the possibility of a memorandum of understanding between the EU and the USA on protection of detainees in Guantánamo in a meeting on Tuesday 17 March. “Any memorandum of understanding between the USA and Europe on Guantánamo detainees must take into account this fundamental requirement: all detainees who are not charged and tried fairly in US courts must be released safely,” said Daniel Gorevan. “The closure of Guantánamo must mark a clean and comprehensive break from the human rights violations that have been committed in the name of countering terrorism.” In a press briefing after the meeting with EU officials, US Attorney General Eric Holder reiterated that under the review of the Guantánamo detentions ordered by President Barack Obama on 22 January, “there are a variety of options” for those detainees the administration decided to release. Among these options is “the possibility that we would release them into this country”. However, Attorney General Holder said that the new administration had “not made any determinations or made any requests of anybody at this point”. “To date, the USA has resisted releasing any Guantánamo detainees into the USA, while simultaneously asking other governments to take individuals who cannot return to their home countries for fear of torture or other human rights violations on return,” said Daniel Gorevan. “Urgency must now be the order of the day. The US administration must immediately put an end to this counter-productive policy of asking others to do what it has so far itself refused to do and recognize that it has an international legal obligation to resolve these unlawful detentions now.” The primary responsibility to find solutions for all those held at Guantanamo lies with the USA. It was the USA that brought them to the detention facility and is holding them there unlawfully. “If the USA is not planning to promptly charge and try them in ordinary US courts, and cannot release them to their own countries safely, it should immediately offer them an opportunity to be released into the USA,” said Daniel Gorevan. Last October, a federal judge ruled that 17 Uighurs were unlawfully detained in Guantánamo and ordered their immediate release into the USA. They remain in indefinite detention in the base more than five months later. Governments in Europe and elsewhere can play a vital role in providing humanitarian protection in the form of a safe place for released detainees who cannot be returned to their home countries to get on with their lives. The involvement of European governments can contribute to President Obama’s stated aim of closing Guantánamo “as soon as practicable.” After a meeting in Washington DC on 16 March with the Irish Foreign Minister, Micheál Martin, US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said: “we need help to avoid the human rights problems that might arise with the release and resettlement of the detainees. “And we are trying to do the best we can with the problem that we inherited, and that certainly is something that Europe, from one end to the other, called upon us to do. So we would hope to have the cooperation of European governments.”