President. The next item is the statement by the Council and the Commission on the situation of the prisoners in Guantánamo.
Ursula Plassnik, President-in-Office of the Council.– (DE) Madam President, ladies and gentlemen, the Council’s position is, and remains, unambiguous. All the international humanitarian standards and standards relating to human rights must be observed wherever in the world the fight against terrorism is conducted. There must be no areas in which the laws do not apply. On that we are agreed.
In the Council, our common understanding is that Guantánamo remains a cause for serious concern. We declare our support for combating terrorism effectively, deploying all the legal means available to us. Terrorism is a threat to our order of values, built on the rule of law. We must, however, also be sure that, in fighting terrorism, we do not damage or call into question our procedures and institutions based on the rule of law. No one should occupy a space in which the law does not apply, and standards relating to human rights and humanitarian law must be observed in the fight against terrorism too.
We in the EU have on many occasions discussed the subject of Guantánamo with the US administration. This dialogue with the United States is being continued. The legal advisers of the USA’s state department and of the EU’s equivalent services are discussing better ways of protecting human rights in the fight against terrorism, as the common search to improve the protection of human rights is important. We must also analyse whether there are any such things as perfect legal bases and whether – and, if so, in which area – there is a need to take action.
For a country such as the United States, which declares its support for freedom, the rule of law and proper court proceedings, Guantánamo is an anomaly. In our view, the US Government should therefore take measures to close down the camp as quickly as possible.
I should also like to add that the latest reports, according to which a considerable number of Guantánamo prisoners were less than 18 years old – children within the meaning of the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child – when they were taken prisoner are naturally cause for particular concern and need to be carefully examined. Back under the British Presidency, the Council approached the United States and asked it to grant representatives of what are known as UN special procedures - including the Special Rapporteur on Torture, Manfred Nowak – unrestricted access to Guantánamo.
Unfortunately, it was not possible for the UN representatives to visit Guantánamo under the normal conditions for special procedures. That is to say, they received no assurance of being able to speak with prisoners unsupervised. This same line was also taken by the United States when Members of the European Parliament visited Guantánamo on 22 May. We continue to insist, as I say, on access for the UN’s Special Rapporteur on Torture.
However, the Council is also particularly concerned to defend or, as the case may be, further to strengthen the cohesion of the Euro-Atlantic Community in the context of combating terrorism. The Euro-Atlantic Community is one of the most successful partnerships the world has ever known. This community of values must also prove its worth specifically in the face of the challenge from international terrorism. That is why it was the concern both of the Austrian Presidency and of the Council to initiate the dialogue between experts in international law, to present the debate in objective terms and to strive for common positions corresponding to our system of values. We must be aware that, following the criminal terrorist attacks of September 2001, the United States saw itself forced, under extraordinary conditions, to react to the new challenges of global terrorism. Some of the measures taken were criticised by Europeans or regarded as being completely incompatible with our common system of values. Since then, the Americans have been seen to think again, and they have made a number of improvements to their original stance. In our view, the constructive dialogue with the United States, designed as it is to achieve certain goals, should help fix the future fight against terrorism more securely within the framework of the rule of law.
Benita Ferrero-Waldner, Member of the Commission. Madam President, I followed with great interest the visit of the Parliament’s delegation, headed by Mr Brok, to Guantánamo, and the motion for a resolution that is on the table today.
The global fight against terrorism on an unprecedented scale has created new challenges for the protection of human rights. The European Commission constantly underlines that states must ensure full respect for human rights during the fight against terrorism, and this is at stake here.
A number of Member States have voiced concern to the US Government about Guantánamo Bay. The Commission itself does not have any competence to intervene on behalf of the detainees held at there. However, we follow very closely all developments and we have noted President Bush’s recent statement that he would like to bring Guantánamo to an end. Hopefully the US Administration will go this way.
The Commission underlines that all anti-terrorist measures must be consistent with both international humanitarian law and international human rights law. It is our firm belief that the Geneva Conventions apply to all persons captured on the field of battle. The Commission also takes the view that the provisions of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and the UN Convention against Torture apply to Guantánamo Bay. In this connection, we welcome the United States’ intention to adopt a new Army Field Manual for intelligence interrogation, which will hopefully ensure that interrogation techniques fully comply with the international prohibition on torture or cruel, inhumane or degrading treatment.
Moreover, in our view, every person who has been detained must enjoy a status under international law and is entitled not to be detained arbitrarily. A person must, in addition, receive due process and a fair trial. The Commission would also stress that no one should be subject to incommunicado detention and that the International Committee of the Red Cross must always be allowed access to detained persons wherever they may be. Finally, we have repeatedly made clear to the United States our opposition to the use of the death penalty in all cases.
The European Union has also made clear its support for the request of various United Nations Special Rapporteurs to visit Guantánamo Bay and to be able to interview detainees in private. The European Union has also raised this issue repeatedly with the United States and will continue to do so.
It is vital that the international community seeks to reassert full adherence to international law, including human rights and humanitarian standards, in relation to the alleged Taliban and al-Qa’ida members in Guantánamo and elsewhere. It is only by ensuring respect for those values by all parties that real progress can be achieved.
Simon Coveney, on behalf of the PPE-DE Group. – Madam President, I am glad that we have an opportunity for debate with the Council and Commission on the Guantánamo Bay detention centre. Guantánamo has become, in publicity terms, an open sore for many people in relation to all that is negative about the so-called war on terrorism.
Fighting terrorism and minimising the threat of terrorism is necessary but not easy and mistakes have been and continue to be made. Worryingly, the aspect of the struggle to combat terrorism that we are losing is the battle to win public support – the hearts and minds of large populations in the Arab world in particular. As a result, many moderate-thinking Muslims see certain efforts being made to combat terrorism as adding to the problem and fuelling fundamentalist thinking, rather than providing an effective solution. Guantánamo is in this category.
I have called for and have signed a joint urgency motion, passed by all groups in February 2005, calling for the closure of the Guantánamo Bay detention centre. That was a short, clear and balanced motion, basically stating three strong messages: firstly, it called for the closure of the detention centre and for fair trials for detainees consistent with international law and standards; secondly, it condemned the use of torture and ill-treatment and the need for conformity with international law in all detention centres; and thirdly, it stressed that contemporary terrorism continues to pose a threat to basic human rights and to our populations.
A delegation of MEPs from various groups recently visited the Guantánamo Bay detention centre. In relation to our joint motion for a resolution, I believe that those MEPs that have just returned from Guantánamo should be given an opportunity to contribute to that motion and improve its accuracy, effectiveness and credibility. For that reason, I hope that other Groups will support my proposal tomorrow on behalf of the PPE-DE Group to postpone the vote on a resolution until the next Strasbourg session in June.
A few weeks will give us an opportunity to produce a motion calling for and justifying the closure of Guantánamo Bay, in a form that can be supported by all of the main groups, with increased credibility in the build up to the EU-US Summit in late June.
Elena Valenciano Martínez-Orozco, on behalf of the PSE Group. – (ES) Madam President, this is not the first time that we have given our opinion on Guantánamo; let us hope that it is the last time we have to do so.
My group agrees with the appeals contained in the conclusions of the report by the United Nations Committee against Torture, published on 19 May.
We call upon the US Government to stop detaining people in secret centres, either on their own territory or on territories under their jurisdiction or under their de facto control.
We call upon the US Government to recognise that detaining people under these conditions constitutes an act of torture or abuse in itself, which is prohibited under the conventions we have signed.
Finally, we once again call upon the Bush Government to close the Guantánamo detention centre and to give the people held there a fair trial or release them immediately, ensuring that they are not sent to any country where they may be subject to torture, as has apparently happened in some cases.
It is now the Council and the Commission’s turn. Commissioner, the European Union must comply with its guidelines on combating torture and the death penalty. You have the duty to raise this issue with the United States and to ask them to close the Guantánamo prison.
The trans-Atlantic summit to be held in Vienna will offer an opportunity to put pressure on the US authorities. We Socialists want Guantánamo to be on the Vienna agenda.
Furthermore, Europe must make its position very clear: in Europe people cannot be detained without charge, nor can people be illegally moved nor torture externalised. We will play no part in it. This Parliament will play no part in it.
Elizabeth Lynne, on behalf of the ALDE Group. – Madam President, I welcome the Council and Commission statements. However, the Council must now put real pressure on the American Government at the EU-US Summit next month to close down Guantánamo Bay once and for all. It must either release prisoners if there is no evidence against them, or try them under international law. Anything else will be a travesty of justice.
How many more reports do we have to read about gross violations of human rights? The latest one from the Committee Against Torture makes the point again: that torture techniques, which should be abhorrent to any decent person, are still being used. We heard these allegations from my constituent Moazzam Begg, who was released last year, and we have heard them in successive reports. We also, as you quite rightly said, need to have answers about whether dozens of children have been incarcerated there, as has been alleged recently.
The Council must be tough and not let the American Government off the hook. As far as Mr Coveney is concerned, I would say, on behalf of my group, that we would not like to see a postponement of this resolution.
Kathalijne Maria Buitenweg, on behalf of the Verts/ALE Group. – (NL) Madam President, although the Council is against Guantanamo, it has also noticed some improvement. The Commission may have sound principles, to which I subscribe, but it really believes that we can take President Bush at his word when he says that the United States intends to close down Guantanamo Bay. Something you both seem to overlook is that a fresh development is underway, namely the need for new prisons to be built, including in Guantanamo Bay, which Mr Brok visited – and he may expand on this himself – but that strikes me as a development to which we must respond. What do you intend to do about it? Will you only enter into fresh dialogue with the United States or will you start making demands for once, at a time when the United States wants something from us, such as passenger data, for example? Will you make real demands?
We can also offer the United States a helping hand, for example, on behalf of the people who are now incarcerated and who will not be brought before a court. Indeed, even the American authorities have admitted that some of those behind bars are innocent. What will we do about this now? Although the European Union is, of course, not responsible for Guantanamo, it could offer those people a solution, out of human compassion. I should like to quote you the example of the Uighurs, some of whom were detained and about whom even Mr Bush admitted that they were innocent, but they could not stay in the US, nor could they return to China where they would face torture. What should happen to those people? The EU failed to offer a helping hand on that occasion. They are now in Albania and will probably still be extradited to China. This begs the question whether this exercise has been all that helpful for them. What are you prepared to do for a large group of people who are still held in Guantanamo Bay and who, apparently, cannot be brought before a court because there is no proof that they are guilty. Could the European Union not offer those people a helping hand, and possibly offer them asylum?
Finally, it is very easy to focus on Guantanamo Bay, which is a well-organised location with a limited number of prisoners, but people lacking any rights is, of course, also a common phenomenon in the rest of the world, because prisoners are increasingly being transported, also to other parts of Europe – as someone mentioned a moment ago – and I hope that the governments are prepared to consider what their own part, albeit passive, has been in this.
Giusto Catania, on behalf of the GUE/NGL Group. – (IT) Madam President, this Parliament has called for the closure of the Guantánamo detention centre on several occasions and we continue to call for it today. Human rights are being violated there, torture is the order of the day, and we have even discovered recently that 60 children have been unlawfully held in Guantánamo.
Guantánamo is a place outside the law, where terrorists or suspected terrorists are detained and thus kept out of reach of normal judicial process. Guantánamo is a symbol of the victory of barbarity over the rule of law, but I have to tell Mrs Plassnik that Guantánamo is unfortunately not an anomaly: it is just the tip of the iceberg, because in recent times the idea has been to fight terrorism by using the same barbarous methods that terrorism uses, and that is leading to our defeat. If we think of how the war is feeding international terrorism, we will have a clear idea of what is happening at the moment.
Terrorist attacks are the most obvious sign of the shift from the rule of law to the rules of the jungle. We must therefore reassert democratic rules; we must reassert the primacy of politics and uphold the rule of law. It has been decided instead to fight on the enemy’s home ground and to compete in denying human rights, in using military might to control the civilian population, in negating the cardinal principles of democracy, and in giving priority to security above all else.
The pictures from Guantánamo and Abu Ghraib prison are emblematic of the victory and culture of terrorism over the rule of law; they are a clear sign of the defeat of those who often declare that they want to fight terrorism, not least because those pictures shown on television around the world are the staff of life for extremist fundamentalism, as are the secret prisons or the kidnappings carried out by CIA secret agents on European soil.
We must not be accomplices or casual observers of such barbarity. I shall conclude by saying that the idea of using any means possible to defeat terrorism is a mistake. There is only one way to defeat terrorism: by safeguarding the rule of law.
Gerard Batten, on behalf of the IND/DEM Group. – Madam President, the US experienced its first serious terrorist attack on 9/11. Its response was entitled ‘A war on terrorism’ – a highly dubious military proposition.
For decades, Britain experienced sustained terrorist attacks launched from the Irish mainland. Those terrorists were substantially funded by US citizens. The US Government was instrumental in forcing the British Government to capitulate in the face of that terrorist campaign.
Now the US is at risk, a different double standard applies: the US Government believes that it has the right to disregard the Geneva Convention and all civilised standards and to kidnap, detain, abuse and torture terrorist suspects. Some of those suspects are British citizens. They may be completely innocent or they may be guilty. Who knows? No evidence is produced, no trials take place. If they are real terrorists, then let them face justice and not languish in a detention camp that the Americans do not even dare to put within their own country.
Elmar Brok (PPE-DE). – (DE) Madam President, Mrs Plassnik, Mrs Ferrero-Waldner, firstly, we should like to say that terrorism is contemptuous of human beings and that the United States has been hit appallingly by terrorism. That is a factor that must form the background to any criticism we make. We must appreciate that this is terrorism directed against our values and our legal system and that it raises concerns about the danger in which it places us. On the other hand, resistance to terrorism should not be to the detriment of our own values, for then terrorism will have won. For this reason, there has been a broad international debate, which has also led to changes.
Following my visit, I am convinced that the situation and the images familiar to us from 2001 and 2002 no longer exist. Nor do I believe that direct physical torture is taking place, as presumably it had been doing, although I obviously have no proof of this. Moreover, the fact that great efforts are taking place within the United States, together with a debate designed to put an end to torture and the like is shown by, for example, the initiatives taken by Senator McCain. What we have here, then, is not typical behaviour towards America on the part of Europe but a debate being conducted in all our societies.
On the other hand – and, on this matter, I agree completely with the Commissioner and Mrs Plassnik – human rights and international humanitarian law must be observed. Although our system of values does in fact entail the risk of a prisoner reoffending after he has been released, we should be giving up our freedom if we were to abandon that same system of values. In dubio pro reo is one of the basic principles of our civilisation. True enough: in the situation in which we now find ourselves, the risk is far smaller if prisoners who might otherwise join the ever growing ranks of new suicide bombers and so inspire further mobilisation are instead kept in prison. On the basis purely of an assessment of the risks involved, releasing people is probably not the right road to go down.
As matters stand, however, people are kept in prison even if they are acquitted. If a prisoner is deemed to have been 80%, but still not 100%, debriefed, he is kept in jail. If a new concrete prison is built, this time devoid of windows, we have, to say the least, a problem. Although what we have here is not a war in the classical sense of the word, we must try, via the International Court of Justice and other international arrangements, to get to grips with this issue. I believe that too much is being expected of the Member States in this area.
Sarah Ludford (ALDE). – Madam President, speaking as the constituency MEP for a dozen former and existing Guantánamo Bay residents, I welcome that at last we are hearing a squeak of protest about Guantánamo Bay from EU Foreign Ministers.
One press report of last weekend’s agreement to make a request to the US to close Guantánamo said: ‘Ministers agreed that Europe can no longer ignore the extensive international criticism of the camp’. It is not exactly ahead of the curve to take four and a half years to make only an informal request. As I understand it, we still have no formal declaration, no common position, and no joint action. However, we are grateful that Foreign Ministers have finally caught up with world opinion. I welcome the public statement here today by the President-in-Office calling for the camp to close.
What we have heard today should have been heard over the last four years. The best way that EU Member States could launch the constructive goal-orientated dialogue with the US – which Mrs Plassnik called for and I agree we need – would be to help this Parliament establish the truth about the extraordinary rendition programme and European complicity in it. I hope that in your response, President-in-Office, you will say that you will help us establish that truth.
The goal that we should seek jointly with the Americans is a return to full respect for international law, not a dilution of it.
Raül Romeva i Rueda (Verts/ALE). – (ES) Madam President, when we discussed and adopted the urgent resolution on Guantánamo a few months ago, it marked a turning point in the debate and we condemned a practice which until then had been completely denied or simply ignored by the powers that be in Europe.
The fight against terrorism – this has been said, I agree with it and I believe that the majority of us take the same view – cannot be an excuse to permit torture, kidnap and, even less, murder, which are taking place not just in Guantánamo, but in many other parts of the world.
We must therefore continue to put pressure on the United States in every way we can in order to persuade them, on the one hand, to close Guantánamo, but also, on the other, to ensure that the almost 500 people in detention have the legal guarantees that they require. We must therefore point out once again – as Mr Valenciano Martínez-Orozco has also said – that prisoners must not be released in the knowledge that they are going to be sent to countries where they may be tortured. In many cases they cannot even return to their countries of residence because their residence permits have been withdrawn.
I therefore believe that we must remind the Council that these measures must be taken seriously and that a proactive approach must be taken in order to guarantee that these people – I insist – not just have a fair trial, but also the human and judicial guarantees they deserve.
Maria da Assunção Esteves (PPE-DE). – (PT) Europe’s main mission is to comply with and promote international law and the humanitarian principles that underpin it. This is yet another reason why the European project must succeed. The fight against terrorism must not undermine the system of personal guarantees that form the moral foundations of democracy and the rule of law. The biggest danger for democracy is the loss of the moral high ground and this is a further serious capitulation in the face of terrorism. Security guarantees must therefore uphold the fundamental values of human rights and must form part of the debate on these values. A securitarian policy gradually destroys the enlightened architecture of democratic policies and its potential to allow human dignity to flourish. Furthermore, the fight against terrorism is not only pursued through the mechanisms of criminal law. On a more fundamental level, it is pursued through the creation of a more balanced world order and the ambitious programme of a form of global justice.
Consequently, Europe is the United States’ best partner if we are to achieve an order that will ensure that the principles of international law and the core values of civilisation are properly upheld. Against a backdrop such as this, what is needed is relentless commitment to dialogue. EU Member States must also take part in the Council of Europe’s process of reflection with a view to amending the Geneva Conventions. Terror suspects are not accorded legal status under those conventions, which is wrong.
Guantánamo does not define the limits of law and politics, yet to define the limits of law and politics is a basic requirement of the principles of justice. This is the biggest victory of democracy over terrorism. To quote Simone de Beauvoir, ‘we must not allow our executioners to give us bad habits’.
Cem Özdemir (Verts/ALE). – (DE) Madam President, Mrs Plassnik, Mrs Ferrero-Waldner, Guantánamo has become a symbol of the removal of human rights and of procedures under the rule of law. It is easy for us Europeans to criticise the situation. We should not, however, just be drawing attention to states of affairs incompatible with human rights and the rule of law. Rather, we should be asking ourselves where our responsibility lies and in what ways we can help bring about a solution.
Even people found by the Americans to be innocent are unable to return to their home countries. The United States, too, correctly rules out sending these people back to countries in which they would be in fear of torture or persecution. We must together answer the question of what should instead happen to these people. The fate of the people in Guantánamo concerns us all and should not leave us indifferent.
Finally – and this is something that also ought to be emphasised today – European governments too have been involved in the extradition, and partly even in the interrogation, of detainees at Guantánamo Bay. That applies, for example, in the case of Murat Kurnaz. If we are seriously calling for Guantánamo Bay to be closed once and for all, we should transform our words into deeds.
Ursula Plassnik, President-in-Office of the Council. (DE) Madam President, we in the Council shall continue, attentively and with a sense of our responsibilities, to pursue and deal with the subject of Guantánamo. That is because this subject is at the interface of a number of the European Union’s political priorities: on the one hand, the issue of the universal validity of human rights and of international humanitarian law, as well as the fight against the scourge of terrorism on the basis of the principles of the rule of law; on the other hand, however, good transatlantic relations, which are also affected by this subject. It goes without saying that these relations should be completely open and that controversial subjects should be addressed with certain goals in view.
We shall undoubtedly continue with the policy we have pursued during the Austrian Presidency and also before that. I mentioned some of the key points in the introduction. We shall also address these subjects at the forthcoming summit on 22 June.
Finally, I should like again to point out that, in all the investigations concerning suspected illegal flights and secret prisons, we in the Presidency have acted to ensure that cooperation with the investigative bodies has been as extensive as it possibly could be. We hope that it will be possible to conclude these investigations as soon as possible.
Benita Ferrero-Waldner, Member of the Commission. Madam President, President-in-Office, we all share a deep concern about the question of human rights, because human rights are a universal principle and have universal applications. I broadly agree with all the key elements mentioned here in the debate. On the one hand, acts of terrorism constitute a clear violation of basic fundamental rights; on the other hand, all anti-terrorist measures must comply with international legal standards of humanitarian and human rights law. Every person detained must be able to receive due process and a fair trial and there also has to be a strict ban on torture and ill-treatment in all circumstances. Therefore, we all feel that Guantánamo should be closed as soon as possible.
It is also a matter of the credibility of the European Union in the Arab world. However, it must be said that we do not apply double standards. The European Union has a common position: last week, all 25 Member States clearly spoke out, and we have already raised the subject of Guantánamo with the US Administration on many occasions. As Mrs Plassnik said, dialogue will be continued on the basis of this common position. The matter will certainly be raised with our American partner at the forthcoming US-EU Summit, as well as the wider issue of the need to respect our common values in the fight against terror. It is in our common interest to find a rapid and common solution.
President. To wind up the debate, seven motions for resolutions(1) have been tabled under Rule 103(2)/Rule 108(5) of the Rules of Procedure.