Closing Guantanamo US Attorney General Asks Europe for Help
Fresh in office, US Attorney General Eric Holder made his first visit to Berlin on Wednesday and asked for the German government's support in the closing of the Guantanamo prison camp. "Just as we joined hands with our international allies to bring down the Iron Curtain that divided this great city, so must we join together to close Guantanamo," Holder said during a speech on Wednesday night given at the American Academy in the German capital.
In an effort to probe support levels for taking in former prisoners, Holder visited London and Prague before coming to Berlin on Wednesday. "I know that Europe did not open Guantanamo, and that, in fact, a great many on this continent opposed it," Holder said in Berlin, before making a direct appeal to Germany to provide its backing. "But as we turn the page to a new beginning, it is incumbent on us all to embrace new solutions, free from the rancor and rhetoric that divided us in the past. To close Guantanamo, we must all make sacrifices and we must be willing to make unpopular choices."
Holder said the legal questions surrounding the 241 remaining prisoners at Guantanamo represented "one of the most daunting challenges I face as attorney general."
Earlier in the day, Holder met with German Interior Minister Wolfgang Schäuble and a junior minister in the Justice Ministry; Germany's justice minister, Brigitte Zypries, is currently in China. Holder said there had been no concrete commitments from the German side, but there had also not been any firm requests from Washington. He said the talks were "open and productive" and that he was leaving Europe with a "very good impression." "There were no definitive no's anywhere," he said, adding that the groundwork had been completed for Washington to make concrete requests for Europeans to take in former Guantanamo prisoners. Holder said he would return to Washington hopeful.
Of the 241 prisoners still being detained at the US military base in Cuba, Holder said that following a review of the reasons for incarceration, "around 30" are expected to be released. He said decisions had not yet been made about the individual prisoners but that they would be made soon and that he expected formal requests to be issued for taking in former prisoners within "weeks, not months."
One of the main reservations Holder has been hearing from representatives of European governments is the widespread fear that countries don't know who, exactly, it is they would be taking in. Holder described those as understandable concerns and said the US would provide comprehensive information about each detainee -- including the reason the former suspect was arrested and the person's prospects for successfully returning to society after release from Guantanamo.
In recent weeks, the expected request from Washington to take in former prisoners has been the subject of contentious debate within the German government. Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier of the center-left Social Democrats (SPD) has expressed his support for taking in prisoners, citing humanitarian reasons. But Interior Minister Wolfgang Schäuble of the conservative Christian Democrats (CDU) has at times been hesitant about the proposals while at other times rejecting them outright. Schäuble fears there will be incalculable security risks for Germany and he feels some of the legal issues still haven't been addressed.
As one of his first decisions as president, US President Obama ordered the closure of the controversial prison camp within one year and assigned Holder with the complex task. During his visit to Berlin, Holder admitted to journalists that the US faced difficult choices with the remaining prisoners, especially the so-called "high value" detainees whose confessions were, in some cases, secured using torture methods. In those instances, he said, each individual case had to be examined. Nevertheless, in some cases it could be difficult to prosecute suspects in normal civilian courts, he warned.
During his speech at the American Academy, Holder said he had recently visited Guantanamo and that he strongly agreed with Obama's opinion that the prison camp "has come to represent a time and an approach that we want to put behind us: a disregard for our centuries-long respect for the rule of law and a go-it alone approach that alienated our allies, incited our adversaries and ultimately weakened our fight against terrorism."