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U.S. Transfers 6 Guantánamo Detainees to Uruguay
The United States transferred six detainees from the Guantánamo Bay prison to Uruguay this weekend, the Defense Department announced early Sunday. It was the largest single group of inmates to depart the wartime prison in Cuba since 2009, and the first detainees to be resettled in South America.
The transfer included a Syrian man who has been on a prolonged hunger strike to protest his indefinite detention without trial, and who has brought a high-profile lawsuit to challenge the military's procedures for force-feeding him. His release may make most of that case moot, although a dispute over whether videotapes of the procedure must be disclosed to the public is expected to continue.
The transfer was also notable because the deal has been publicly known since it was finalized last spring. Significantly, however, delays by Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel in signing off on the arrangement placed it in jeopardy. Mr. Hagel's slow pace this year in approving proposed transfers of low-level detainees contributed to larger tensions with the White House before his resignation under pressure last month.
Although President Obama vowed in 2013 to revive his efforts to close the prison, the military had transferred just one low-level detainee in the first 10 months of this year. That transfer occurred in March. But the bureaucratic logjam appears to be clearing: Since November, it has transferred 13 more.
Still, even if the military were to transfer all the other detainees recommended for such a move, some 69 detainees would remain. They are either facing charges before a military commission or deemed untriable but too dangerous to release.
The Obama administration hopes that if it can shrink the inmate population to two digits, Congress will revoke a law that bars the transfer of detainees into the United States. It would be far cheaper for taxpayers to house the inmates on domestic soil, and the White House argues that closing Guantánamo would eliminate a propaganda symbol for terrorists to use against the country. But Republican lawmakers remain hostile to that plan. They argue that housing wartime prisoners on domestic soil would increase the risk of terrorist attacks inside the United States.
Each of the six detainees had long been recommended for release if the receiving country could meet security conditions, but they remained at Guantánamo because they come from home countries with troubled security conditions. Earlier this year, Uruguay's president, José Mujica, offered to take them in, and the deal was ready to go in March.
But Mr. Hagel waited until July to notify Congress that he was approving the deal. The following month, when the United States sent a plane to Guantánamo to bring the men out, Mr. Mujica balked, preferring to avoid the media spectacle of their arrival in the middle of an election campaign to choose his successor.
Then, Uruguay's presidential election went into a runoff, which was held on Nov. 30. During the delay, administration officials insisted that the transfers would take place eventually.
Cliff Sloan, the State Department envoy who negotiates detainee transfers, expressed gratitude to Mr. Mujica in a statement. Several other South American countries, including Brazil, Chile and Colombia, motivated by news of the Uruguay deal, had opened talks about potentially taking in some low-level detainees as well, but were watching to see what would happen.
"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," Mr. Sloan said. "The support we are receiving from our friends and allies is critical to achieving our shared goal of closing Guantánamo."
He noted that "this transfer is a major milestone in our efforts to close the facility."
Mr. Mujica, a former urban guerrilla who spent 14 years in prison in Uruguay, including more than a decade in solitary confinement, expressed critical views of Guantánamo in a televised interview over the weekend, adding, "Once there is a president of the United States who wants to undo a miserable injustice that they left for him, turning one's back due to such thinking would be cowardly, even more so when one thinks as one thinks."
Mr. Mujica also emphasized that Uruguay would not place restrictions on the mobility of the six men, saying that their arrival with refugee status meant that "the first day they want to leave, they can go."
[Source: By Charlie Savage, The New York Times, Washington, 07Dec14]
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