Image: Tom Lantos
Rachael Strecher  /  AP file
Chairman of the U.S. House Foreign Affairs Committee Tom Lantos
updated 10/27/2007 10:16:16 AM ET 2007-10-27T14:16:16

Dutch lawmakers who visited the Guantanamo Bay military prison this week said they were offended by a testy exchange in Washington with a senior congressional Democrat.

The lawmakers said that Rep. Tom Lantos, D-Calif., chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, told them that “Europe was not as outraged by Auschwitz as by Guantanamo Bay.”

Lantos, a Holocaust survivor, was responding to arguments that the United States should shut down the prison, located on a U.S. naval base in Cuba, the lawmakers said. Mariko Peter, a member of the Dutch Green Party, who began the exchange with Lantos, said she took notes of the remarks.

A Lantos aide said he realizes that the Guantanamo facility does harm to the reputation of the United States and has praised judges who ruled in favor of extending legal rights to prisoners. He has not, however, suggested that the prison be closed.

Before the Guantanamo exchange, the lawmakers had discussed a debate in the Netherlands about whether the country should maintain its 1,600 troops serving in NATO’s Afghanistan operations.

“You have to help us, because if it was not for us you would now be a province of Nazi Germany,” Lantos said, according to the Dutch lawmakers.

'Killed the debate'
“The comments killed the debate,” said Harry van Bommel, a member of the Socialist Party. “It was insulting and counterproductive.”

A Lantos spokeswoman said Lantos was not available and had no comment.

The Dutch government soon will announce whether its troops will stay in the southern Afghan province of Uruzgan, where they recently have begun an anti-Taliban offensive backed by British and Afghan forces. Lantos has praised the Netherlands’ contribution to the Afghan mission.

“It was a diplomatically strange situation,” Peters said. “The mere suggestion that the United States could be compared with Nazi Germany is so flawed.”

It was not the first time that Lantos had offended European political circles. In May, he lashed out at the former leaders of France and Germany. His comments, which included calling former German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder a “political prostitute,” provoked a rebuke from German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier.

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The lawmakers, from the Dutch House of Representatives’ Foreign Affairs Committee, were invited to visit Guantanamo and Washington by the U.S. ambassador to the Netherlands, Roland Arnall. The lawmakers also met senior Bush administration officials, including Deputy Secretary of State John Negroponte and Deputy Defense Secretary Gordon England.

Tour of Guantanamo
Members of the delegation said they were given an extensive tour of the Guantanamo Bay prison, which has been heavily criticized by human rights groups.

Some of the lawmakers said that while they found the physical conditions of the prison acceptable, they remain concerned that prisoners were not being given proper legal treatment.

Most of the delegation called for the closing of Guantanamo.

“We have to close Guantanamo because it symbolizes for me everything that is wrong with this war on terror,” Peters said.

But at least one member disagreed.

“Let’s not forget we are in a state of war — not only the United States but also my country — with Islamic terrorists,” said the far right Freedom Party leader, Geert Wilders. “I think we could only learn from Guantanamo.”

A number of the members said that the United States should consult international institutions and other countries to answer some of the difficult quandaries about closing the facility.

“We need to work out an international deal on the future of Guantanamo Bay,” said Hans van Baalen, of the Liberals, who led the delegation.

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