America is putting increasing pressure on Britain and other European countries to take in dozens of GuantÃ¡namo detainees so that Barack Obama can close down the infamous prison camp.
The issue threatens to be an early test of relations with the President-elect, who has stated that shutting GuantÃ¡namo will be one of the top priorities for his incoming administration.
John Bellinger, the chief legal adviser to Condoleezza Rice, the Secretary of State, toldÂ The TimesÂ that the US had been seeking help from European allies in resettling detainees who were regarded as posing no threat to the West but could not be sent back to their own countries.
A senior State Department official confirmed that the response from Britain and most European Union members had been to refuse. Mr Bellinger said: “It is not helpful for countries to keep calling for the closure of GuantÃ¡namo while doing nothing to enable us to do it.”
More than a fifth of the 250 remaining GuantÃ¡namo inmates are Chinese, Libyan, Russian, Tunisian or Uzbek nationals who might face persecution or death if they are sent back home. Albania has taken in a handful of Uighurs, who are part of an Islamic separatist movement in a remote western region of China, and Portugal said this week that it was ready to provide a home for others. Luis Amado, the Foreign Minister, said: “The time has come for the European Union to step forward.”
A State Department official acknowledged that public hostility in Europe towards President Bush had been a significant barrier to making progress but suggested that Mr Obama may find it easier.
There have already been discussions between the State Department and Mr Obama’s transition team on closing GuantÃ¡namo and one figure who had been present at such talks said that the President-elect had been “getting ready to do some quite robust arm-twisting in European capitals”.
A spokesman for the Foreign and Commonwealth Office said that Britain had already repatriated 13 people who had UK citizenship or residency rights. In addition, it had offered to take two other inmates, Binyam Mohammed and Shaker Aamer, who have the legal right to live in Britain.
It is understood that Mr Obama’s plan to close GuantÃ¡namo would involve taking the most dangerous detainees â€“ a group numbering between 30 and 80 men â€“ from the prison camp in Cuba to the US mainland for trial, where they will finally receive legal rights.
This would involve creating a special terrorism court designed to handle highly sensitive intelligence material and protect the identity of CIA personnel. Some suspects may face lesser charges than those laid against them at GuantÃ¡namo’s military tribunals, because much of the evidence against them was gathered through techniques denounced by human rights groups as torture.