According to an AP story today reprinted in the Miami Herald, European Union countries are likely to take in several dozen Guantanamo Bay detainees. Czech Interior Minister Martin Pecina spoke for the 27-nation bloc of interior ministers saying that it would be up to each individual government to decide whether to participate.
This is welcome news, if it comes to pass.
It is also one piece of a broader strategy to close the facility that both the Bush & Obama administrations’ have been working on for some time.
Currently, there are 239 detainees at Guantanamo. They include household names like: KSM (alleged mastermind of 9/11); al-Nashiri (alleged mastermind of USS Cole bombing); Abu Zubaydah (alleged senior al Qaeda operative and 9/11 planner); Walid Bin ‘Attash (alleged USS Cole operative and 9/11 operative); Ramzi Binalshibh (alleged key facilitator for 9/11); Mustafa al Hawsawi (alleged key financial facilitator for 9/11); Ammar al-Baluchi (alleged financial operative for 9/11 and nephew of KSM) and other lesser-known detainees.
It is those lesser known detainees that the United States will make available for transfer.
Obviously, in order to fulfill his goal to close the detention center at Guantanamo by January 2010, President Obama will need to find appropriate alternative locations for the detainees currently detained there. Our European allies and others have already assisted in the release and transfer of over 550 detainees at Gitmo. Those releases started months after the camps opened in January 2002. At its peak, the camps had approximately 780 detainees.
If our European allies agree to take even more transfers from Guantanamo, that will ease the pressure on the Obama administration to close the facility within its self-imposed timeline. It could also change the dynamic on Capitol Hill, which recently denied the Administration $80 million in funding to close the facility. The news will be welcomed by many lawmakers on Capitol Hill, but will not trump their desire for a detailed plan from the Obama administration on where the remaining detainees will go.
In his May 21st speech at the National Archives President Obama spelled out the five basic components of the solution to closing Guantanamo Bay: (1) trials in federal district court; (2) military commissions trials; (3) finding an appropriate place for those who were have been ordered released by the courts; (4) transferring some to other countries, and; (5) prolonged detention.
Thus, if our European allies take dozen of detainees, that will go a long way to satisfying the fourth category listed above.
As for “prolonged detention,” which many call military detention, there will be a hearing next week before the Subcommittee on the Constitution (a subcommittee of the U.S. Senate Judiciary Committee). The hearing is slated for Tuesday, June 9th, and is entitled, “The Legal, Moral, and National Security Consequences of ‘Prolonged Detention.’”
However, as I have been saying for some time now, simply closing Guantanamo without addressing the serious underlying challenges and questions regarding detention policy in this ongoing conflict is essentially changing the ZIP code without confronting the broader challenges. The bigger challenge concerns future detainees captured outside of Afghanistan and Iraq. To read my policy solution on that challenge, click here.