Six prisoners held for 12 years at Guantanamo Bay have been sent to Uruguay to be resettled as refugees, the U.S. government announced Sunday — a deal that had been delayed for months by security concerns in the Pentagon and political considerations in the South American country. The six men — four Syrians, a Tunisian and a Palestinian — are the first prisoners transferred to South America from the U.S. base in Cuba, part of a flurry of recent releases amid a renewed push by President Barack Obama to close the prison.
We are very grateful to Uruguay for this important humanitarian action, and to President Mujica for his strong leadership in providing a home for individuals who cannot return to their own countries.
U.S. State Department envoy Clifford Sloan
All were detained as suspected militants with ties to al-Qaeda in 2002 but were never charged. They had been cleared for release since at least 2010, but could not be sent home and languished as the U.S. struggled to find countries willing to take them. Uruguayan President Jose Mujica agreed to accept the men as a humanitarian gesture and said they would be given help getting established in a country with a small Muslim population. Among those transferred is 43-year-old Syrian Abu Wa’el Dhiab, who was on a long-term hunger strike at Guantanamo to protest his confinement. He was at the center of a legal battle in U.S. courts over the military’s force-feeding of prisoners who refuse to eat. The men’s release brings the total number of prisoners at Guantanamo to 136 — the lowest number since the first month the prison opened in January 2002.