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Guantanamo inmates pose challenge for Europe

Having pledged to provide shelter for up to 60 former detainees, the EU now faces a thorny set of questions: Where exactly should they go? Who pays? What happens to them now?

February 08, 2009|Sebastian Rotella

In February 2007, U.S. officials cleared the farmer for release, but he remained in custody because there was nowhere to send him. In a handwritten letter in October, he appealed to the outside world. "I did nothing wrong and I am innocent," he wrote. "But I do not blame the American people for their government's mistake. Even though I am still here in this prison, I have no hate in my heart."

In contrast, European investigators see other inmates as potentially dangerous militants even if prosecution is difficult because much of the alleged activity took place outside Europe. They cite several Tunisians linked to a militant group that assassinated Ahmed Shah Massoud, the anti-Taliban warlord, two days before the Sept. 11 attacks.

"Some of them are dangerous and hyper-motivated," said a senior Italian anti-terrorism official. "They are veterans of Afghanistan. It would be difficult to charge them, but they would have to be kept under surveillance."

Two Tunisians who raise concern among European investigators lived in Italy before their arrests: Hisham Sliti, who a U.S. judge ruled in December could not be cleared for release because of evidence that he was an enemy combatant, and Adel Hakimi.

Hakimi, 43, fought in Bosnia-Herzegovina in the 1990s, European investigators say, then became part of a group of Tunisians who joined Al Qaeda in Afghanistan. In 2002, an Al Qaeda ideologue later convicted in a Belgian court told Belgian police that Hakimi was an operative who helped recruits cross from Pakistan into Afghanistan and reach the militants' base in Jalalabad, according to a Belgian police report.

Hakimi's lawyers argue that U.S. allegations against him are false and based on testimony extracted through torture. They describe him as a peaceful, Westernized resident of Italy who has never seen his 6-year-old daughter. But European investigators point out that Hakimi fathered the girl with the 13-year-old daughter of an Al Qaeda operative later convicted in Belgium.

Americans and Europeans will have to work together to handle the costs and challenges of healing, rehabilitating, housing and, if necessary, monitoring the inmates who come to Europe, Garzon said.

"We have to confront the reality that some bad people will end up walking the streets," Garzon said. "Like the former rapists, robbers and terrorists whom we have walking the streets once they complete their sentence and are released. We have to take the risks that are necessary in a democratic society."


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