LUXEMBOURG - European Union states agreed on Thursday to share information on former detainees they plan to accept from Guantanamo Bay, a move that should help Washington close the center.
President Barack Obama has pledged to close the prison, reviled by critics in Europe and elsewhere for suspected abuses of human rights in the Bush administration's war on terror, by January and is looking for countries to take in freed detainees.
Interior ministers from the 27-nation European Union agreed in Luxembourg that EU states considering taking in former detainees would inform all others and share information received from the United States before taking a final decision.
The European Union is keen to help Obama meet his goal by taking in some detainees, but the issue is awkward because open borders within Europe mean an ex-inmate taken in by one state could travel freely throughout most of the region.
It's very important, EU Counterterrorism Coordinator Gilles de Kerchove told Reuters of the deal in Luxembourg.
It is materialized by a system of information-sharing, politically confirmed at the highest level. That's important because it reinforces trust, he said. Member states would retain the full say on whether to receive a detainee, he added.
He said that closing Guantanamo would remove one of the elements contributing to Islamist radicalization.
It is consistent with our position during the Bush administration and its war on terror policy, that we were not in agreement with the secret flights, secret detention centers, torture, Guantanamo and the like, he said.
SEVERAL DOZEN DETAINEES
Czech Interior Minister Martin Pecina, representing the EU presidency, said the agreement on information-sharing could allow EU states to accept up to several dozen freed detainees, although his country did not plan to take in any.
The agreement covers the 25-state border-free Schengen area of the European Union, which does not include Britain or Ireland, although they also agreed to share information.
While the guidelines would not entitle a state to block another from taking in a former detainee, EU security cooperation meant in practice that any concerns would be taken into account in any decision, officials said.
Immigration or residence documents could also be made up for the former detainees to specify restrictions on travel within the European Union, although EU officials concede that open borders meant this would be difficult practically to enforce.
EU officials say the agreement could also assist Washington by encouraging other countries such as Canada and Australia to accept detainees.
EU Justice Commissioner Jacques Barrot said it was important for Europe to show it supported the United States in its break from the policies of the previous administration.
It's over. We have to turn the page, he told reporters.
The Obama administration is sorting detainees into four groups -- those to be released or sent to other countries; those to be tried in the regular U.S. courts; those to be tried in revised military tribunals and those to be held indefinitely because they cannot be prosecuted but pose a threat.