Clinton calls on Europe to help close Guantanamo

Washington  - European demands for the closure of the Guantanamo prison should translate into helping the United States by accepting some of the detainees, US Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton said Monday.

President Barack Obama has issued orders to close Guantanamo by January 2010 but needs European help, because many of the detainees cannot be returned to their native countries out of fear they will be mistreated, Clinton said.

Shutting down Guantanamo "certainly is something that Europe, from one end to the other, called upon us to do," Clinton said. "So we would hope to have the cooperation of European governments."

The detention facility at the US naval base on Cuba was a key source of friction in trans-Atlantic relations during the Bush administration, and European leaders have called it a violation of human rights.

"It is clear that we will need help, because many of the detainees cannot safely, for themselves or others, be sent back to the countries from which they came," Clinton said during a press conference with Irish Foreign Minister Michael Martin.

Clinton was responding to a question about European critics of US requests for Guantanmo help, who say that closing the prison is solely the responsibility of the United States. Martin acknowledged that Europe should play a helpful role in closing Guantanamo.

"Given the fact that we called for closure of Guantanamo, there's a compelling logic to be responsive to the situation and to see what way we can help, within the context of the European Union as well," Martin said.

There are about 245 detainees still held at Guantanamo. The Obama administration is reviewing their cases to determine who should be tried, released or transferred to another country.

Their meeting took place as top EU officials were in Washington for wide-ranging talks with their US counterparts, including over Guantanamo.

The European Union's top justice official, Commissioner Jacques Barrot, and Czech Interior Minister Ivan Langer, whose country holds the rotating EU presidency, provided US officials with a list of questions regarding any potential European cooperation in resettling detainees, Barrot told reporters.

They met Monday with Attorney General Eric Holder, who is playing a lead role in the administration's effort to close the Guantanamo prison within a year, and Deputy Secretary of State James Steinberg. They were due to meet Tuesday with Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano.

"We have come to listen and to lend a helping hand if needed," Barrot said.

US officials did not make any requests during the meeting but gave assurances that Washington would take a different approach in the war on terrorism from the Bush administration, and promised complete transparency in providing information about detainees who are possible candidates for transfer to an EU country, Barrot said.

The two men did not reveal the specific questions they asked about the Obama administration's plans to move forward on Guantanamo, they said. The trans-Atlantic partners agreed on a memorandum of understanding to cooperate in the war on terrorism.

"They want to change the way terrorism will be fought," Barrot, speaking in French, said through a translator.

The issue of accepting detainees has divided the European Union. Some countries have expressed a willingness to consider US transfer requests, while others have ruled out taking prisoners.

Complicating the matter are EU rules that allow people to freely move from country to country with limited or no border checks.

Only about 20 detainees at Guantanamo were formally charged under the military commissions established by Bush. Obama suspended those proceedings pending the review of Guantanamo.

The Pentagon has identified about 60 inmates who no longer pose a threat and can be transferred, but the United States has been reluctant to send them back to their native countries over concerns that they could be tortured. (dpa)