NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis


October 18, 2006

British Foreign Secretary Margaret Beckett last week issued the latest European demand to close down the U.S. military prison at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.  The existence of the prison is "unacceptable" and fuels Islamic radicalism around the world, she said, echoing a recent chorus of complaints from Europe about U.S. counterterrorism policy.

Behind the scenes, however, the British government has repeatedly blocked efforts to let some prisoners leave Guantanamo and return home:

  • Officials there recently rejected a U.S. offer to transfer 10 former British residents from Guantanamo to the United Kingdom, arguing that it would be too expensive to keep them under surveillance.
  • Britain has also staved off a legal challenge by the relatives of some prisoners who sued to require the British government to seek their release.

Other European governments, which have been equally vocal in assailing Guantanamo as a human rights liability, have also balked at accepting prisoner transfers:

  • A Turkish citizen who was born and raised in Germany was finally permitted to return from Guantanamo in August, four years after the German government turned down a U.S. proposal to release him.
  • In addition, virtually every country in Europe refused to grant asylum to several Guantanamo prisoners from China who were not being sent home because of fears they could face political harassment there.
  • The Balkan nation of Albania agreed to take in five of the Chinese in May, but only after more than 100 other nations rebuffed U.S. pleas to accept them on humanitarian grounds, State Department officials said.

"In practical terms, it's not enough to say, 'Guantanamo should be closed,' without suggesting the next sentence: What do you do with the people who are there?" says John B. Bellinger III, the State Department's chief legal adviser.

Source: Craig Whitlock, "U.S. Faces Obstacles To Freeing Detainees: Allies Block Returns From Guantanamo," Washington Post, October 17, 2006.

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