For years, European officials have been calling for the Guantanamo detention facility to be closed. When President Obama ordered the facility shuttered during his first week in office, many of these same officials applauded. Here was EU Justice Commissioner Jacques Barrot on President Obama's executive order calling for Guantanamo to be closed by January of 2010: "I am delighted that one of the first acts of President Obama has been to turn the page on this sad episode of [the] Guantanamo prison." Barrot's comment was quite natural given that the Europeans have played up every claim of abuse and torture (whether or not there was any evidence to back up the claim) at Guantanamo, while downplaying the threat posed by the individuals detained there.
But it turns out that these same officials are now not so keen on accepting the Guantanamo detainees into their own countries. Today, Barrot explained: "There is a very deep wariness on the part of EU interior ministers, who are concerned about the difficulties of hosting one or another inmate. To do that, we need to know a lot about the candidates."
But if you (Mr. Barrot) did not know a lot about the detainees who are and were incarcerated at Guantanamo, then why were you and your colleagues in various European governments so quick to praise President Obama's order? Why so eager to call Guantanamo a stain on America's moral credibility if you didn't know the first thing about many of the individuals America was trying to neutralize there?
There is no doubt that some mistakes were made at Guantanamo, especially early on. But as President Obama's own attorney general has conceded, Guantanamo is now (and, in reality, has been for some time) "well-run." In Europe though, that seems to be irrelevant.
Indeed, Barrot's comments reflect the general hypocrisy of European officials on Guantanamo. They know little to nothing about the detainees there, yet they are quick to repeat every claim of alleged American wrongdoing. And then, when they are asked to help solve this supposed problem, they trumpet their own ignorance about the detainees while at the same time claiming they are concerned about their threat level.
Barrot takes this game a step further saying, "We have questions and we are going to test the level of cooperation from the US authorities. We will verify all the information obtained, particularly about the exact nature of the US request" with respect to specific detainees. "But because we think the Americans are the ones in need of help, on the face of it I can't see why they would avoid these questions," Barrot said.
The point of Barrot's statement is clear: the Europeans want to have assurances from America that the detainees they take are not a significant risk to their security. But, again, why wasn't any of this considered by the Europeans before they lambasted the Bush administration for keeping Guantanamo open? It's as if it never crossed their minds until now that Guantanamo held some rather menacing figures.
There is another layer to Barrot's hypocrisy. There is abundant, publicly available, unclassified information on the detainees. The Europeans may want to know more, but it is not as if they did not have access to any information on the detainees at all. Indeed, the unclassified files most likely tell a good part of their story. But apparently high-level EU officials could not be bothered to go through those files or learn anything about the detainees until the day they were asked to give them a home. Ironically, they have been part of the chorus that has hastened the arrival of that day in the first place.