Image: Eric Holder
Fritz Reiss  /  AP
U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder wants Europe to take in some inmates that are scheduled to be freed from Guantanamo Bay before the detention facility closes.
updated 4/29/2009 5:29:36 PM ET 2009-04-29T21:29:36

The United States and its allies must make sacrifices to close the Guantanamo Bay detention center, U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder said Wednesday in a high-profile appeal for Europe's help.

Holder spoke to the American Academy of Berlin, not long after telling reporters that the United States had approved the release of about 30 Guantanamo detainees.

"We must all make sacrifices and we must all be willing to make unpopular choices," Holder said.

"The United States is ready to do its part, and we hope that Europe will join us — not out of a sense of responsibility, but from a commitment to work with one of its oldest allies to confront one of the world's most pressing challenges," he said.

There are currently 241 inmates at the facility at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, and Holder spent the past several days privately asking European leaders in London, Prague, and Berlin for help relocating detainees the United States wants to set free.

Holder spoke before a select group of policy experts, academics, and journalists in a crowded room of about 100.

In answer to a question about past Bush administration officials' decisions to authorize tough interrogation techniques, Holder said he believed that many of them would, privately, admit to having made some mistakes in the pressure and worry that followed the Sept. 11 attacks.

"I don't suspect that would be true of Vice President Dick Cheney," Holder added.

At another point, a questioner earnestly asked of those Guantanamo detainees who are believed to be innocent could be put in a hotel somewhere.

"Hotels might be a possibility, it depends on where the hotel is," joked Holder.

Before the speech, Holder met with reporters, saying the United States has made decisions on a group of about 30 detainees, but has not yet decided where it wants to send them.

He said the United States is weeks away from asking certain countries to take detainees.

"We have about 30 or so where we've made the determination that they can be released. So we will, I think, relatively soon, be reaching out to specific countries with specific detainees and ask whether or not there might be a basis for the moving of those people from Guantanamo to those countries," Holder said.

'Unified response'
Germany's former justice minister, Herta Daubler-Gmelin, a fierce critic of President George W. Bush, said Holder "made a very good impression. He's very honest about this society in transformation in America."

She said she expected Germany would eventually be one of the countries that accepts Guantanamo detainees.

The previous Bush administration had approved about 60 detainees for release, and Holder aides would not say if the 30 he was referring to were part of that group. Additionally, about 20 detainees have been ordered released by the courts, though those cases remain unresolved.

President Barack Obama has ordered the controversial detention site shuttered in the next nine months and assigned Holder to oversee that effort.

Holder said he has been telling European officials over the past week that "the problem that it created is best solved by a unified response."

Closing Guantanamo is good for all nations, he argued, because anger over the prison has become a powerful global recruiting tool for terrorists.

Yet when it comes to the prospect of having former international terror suspects living free, the Obama administration is trying to overcome the not-in-my-backyard sentiment that exists on both sides of the Atlantic.

Several European nations, including Portugal and Lithuania, have said they will consider taking such detainees. Others, like Germany, are divided on the issue.

French President Nicolas Sarkozy already has made what was billed as a symbolic gesture of agreeing to take one Guantanamo detainee.

Harsh interrogations
In speaking to reporters Wednesday, Holder also said it is possible the United States could cooperate with a foreign court's investigation of Bush administration officials.

Holder spoke before the announcement that a Spanish magistrate had opened an investigation of Bush officials on harsh interrogation methods. Holder didn't rule out cooperating in such a probe.

"Obviously, we would look at any request that would come from a court in any country and see how and whether we should comply with it," Holder said.

"This is an administration that is determined to conduct itself by the rule of law and to the extent that we receive lawful requests from an appropriately created court, we would obviously respond to it," he said.

Pressed on whether that meant the United States would cooperate with a foreign court prosecuting Bush administration officials, Holder said he was talking about evidentiary requests, and would review any such request to see if the U.S. would comply.

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