Monday, 26 January 2009

Should Europe accept Guantanamo detainees?

Since President Obama issued the executive order that the Guantanamo Bay Base be shut down within a year, there has been some debate over what will happen to the detainees. Those that will be released will be sent back home, but some cannot be sent back for fear that they will be tortured and/or killed in their home countries.

The Portuguese have suggested that European countries take some of the detainees, and EUobserver has an interesting article on how the EU is considering it, with France proposing an EU fact-finding mission to Guantanamo and for 60 of the detainees to be taken by EU member states, and the Czech Republic favouring a more state-centred version, where each state decides for itself on a case-by-case basis. Countries in favour of taking some detainees include: Sweden, France, Germany, Ireland, Portugal, Spain and the UK.

But the big question is: should Europe take the detainees?

On one side, Europe has a moral obligation to do so. European countries have long criticised the US over Guantanamo and called for its closure, and European countries have been complicit in the detainees' treatment through the extraordinary rendition affair. This (along with our championing of abolition of the death penalty, torture, and our support for the rule of law) creates a moral obligation to offer help to at least some of these 60. We wanted their release if they could not be found guilty in a fair trial. It becomes a question of acting to live up to our own rhetoric.

On the other hand, this is largely the US's fault. The US has the largest moral obligation to compensate those detainees who are innocent and to resettle those who cannot return home. It would be difficult to integrate them into the society whose government has wronged them, but it is up to that government to right the wrong; it is not up to European governments.

I favour accepting some detainees. We comment so much about the US being credible and living up to its values, yet time and again we show embarrassing hesitation on living up to our own.

There are a lot of technical issues that would need to be addressed: integrating the detainees - they may need language training, counselling, etc - who will pay for their integration, European governments or the US; and security checks for the detainees before they're accepted, etc.

However if the technical issues can be sorted out, then Europe should accept them.

1 comment:

  1. Grahnlaw said:

    "For the sake of argument, if you have spoken out against your neighbour acquring toxic assets, does it really mean that you have even a moral obligation to take them on, if he decides to give them up?

    In my view, the Guantanamo detainees are squarely a US responsibility.

    Enter politics. I understand that the USA would be more than happy to see as much of the problem disappear. European political leaders are asked for signs of good will, and at least some of them are going to accommodate the wishes of the new American adiministration by taking on these walking security risks."

    No, of course you wouldn't have a moral obligation to take the bad assets on. (Though in your example we would have been the accountant neighbour who sorted out the purchase of the toxic assets despite saying that it was a bad idea.) However, I would contend that it's a different matter with human beings.

    The US should take them itself - however, if that's politically impossible, Europe should take some of the burden. Complaining about the prison doesn't make us morally obligated on its own, but secretly helping with the transfer of detainees does make us to a certain extent.

    Also, a not so selfless reason I have is that I think it would be good for European "soft power" or the perception of us around the world. It would be a very small affect, but I think it would be of benefit.