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Europe Criticizes Treatment of Prisoners in Guantanamo Bay

A group of European Parliament members has urged the European Union to step up pressure on the U.S. to ensure fair treatment of Guantanamo Bay prisoners, in particular 20 EU citizens.

Camp X-Ray at Guantanamo Bay

Camp X-Ray at Guantanamo Bay

The horror of Guantanamo Bay, a U.S. naval base in Cuba converted into a military prison camp for al Qaeda and Taliban suspects, reared its ugly head in the European Parliament in Brussels on Tuesday when a group of parliamentarians heard testimony from relatives and legal representatives of 20 European citizens imprisoned there.

Amzat Begg made an impassioned plea for his 35-year-old son, a British citizen, detained two years ago in Pakistan and since held at Camp Delta in Guantanamo Bay. "I know for sure Moazzam has not done anything wrong," Begg said. "It’s a gross violation of human rights which has been committed by America."

The Guantanamo Bay prison camp (photo), which holds some 680 men from 42 countries -- most taken into custody in Afghanistan following the Sept 11, 2001, terrorist attacks in the United States -- has come under fire from human rights groups and civil organizations worldwide for holding the prisoners without charge and denying them free and fair trials. Washington insists on trying the men by secret military tribunals instead.

Taliban Gefangener in Guantanamo

Taliban and al-Qaida detainees at Guantanamo Bay

The issue is further complicated with the Bush administration classifying the men as "illegal combatants," meaning they are neither soldiers -- in which case they would be treated in accordance with the Geneva Convention -- nor common criminals, in which case they would face trial by jury in a U.S. criminal court.

MEPs: EU should protest unitedly

A cross-party group of European Parliament members have now added their voice to the growing clamor of criticism and petitioned the European Union to push for a jury trial or release for 20 EU citizens currently being held at Guantanamo Bay, among them nine British nationals, three British residents who do not hold a U.K. passport, six French citizens and a German-born man of Turkish descent.

"I'm personally hearing a deafening silence from the EU as an entity," British Liberal Democrat deputy Sarah Ludford said on Tuesday at a news conference in Brussels. "Where is the united diplomatic protest by the EU to President Bush?... I think it is our duty to tell President Bush and Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld ... that the U.S. is shooting itself in the foot with human rights abuses at Guantanamo Bay."

Ludford further suggested the EU should make its support of a broader United Nations mandate in Iraq conditional on Washington giving European prisoners held in Camp Delta a fair trial. "The U.S. wants a UN Security Council resolution on internationalizing the occupation of Iraq," she said. "We have a window of opportunity there. We should say 'no way' to President Bush, unless we get guarantees of fair trials or release for those detainees."

Stepping up legal pressure on the U.S.

Monica Frassoni, joint chair of the environmentalist Green group in the European Parliament called for suspension, if necessary, of agreements signed in June with the U.S. on legal cooperation and extradition. "If no just solution is found for the problems of the detainees in Guantanamo, these agreements must not come into force on the agreed date, May 1, 2004," she said. "The EU has taken similar measures against other countries. Why not against the United States?"

Spanish Socialist deputy Anna Terron i Cusi said the hearings were designed to motivate the European Commission into looking out for its citizens and said the European Parliament cross-party group would ask the EU's decision-making Council of Ministers for support in presenting "a common front vis a vis the United States, to see that those people who are European citizens do have a fair trial and everybody else as well."

Terron i Cusi underlined that since most of the citizens are of non-European descent, the case would be a test of the EU’s commitment to its constitutional – as opposed to ethnic – concept of citizenship.

Britain moves to ensure fate of citizens

European governments have largely shied away from confronting the U.S. on the matter. So far only the U.K. and Australia – and, to a lesser extent, Sweden have raised concerted concerns about their citizens being held in the camps.

British Prime Minister Tony Blair, a close ally of the U.S., intervened last month to urge the U.S. to make clear the fate of British prisoners being held at Guantanamo Bay.

"The UK government has consistently pressed the US administration to come to a decision on resolving the position of all the UK detainees held in Guantanamo Bay," a recent Foreign Office report said. "Whatever their status, we have made clear our view that the detainees are entitled to humane treatment and, if prosecuted, a fair trial," it report said.

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