Six detainees were released to Uruguay from the U.S. detention center at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, the Department of Defense announced Sunday.
A statement issued by the Pentagon said the men were approved for transfer after a review of their cases consistent with President Obama’s 2009 executive order directing the closure of the facility at the Guantanamo Bay Naval Base.
The Pentagon identified the detainees as Ahmed Adnan Ahjam, Ali Hussain Shaabaan, Omar Mahmoud Faraj, Abdul Bin Mohammed Abis Ourgy, Mohammed Tahanmatan, and Jihad Diyab.
USA Today reported the men were four Syrians, a Tunisian and a Palestinian who were detained in 2002 as suspected militants with ties to al-Qaeda but were never charged. The newspaper said they had been cleared for release since 2010, but the administration had no luck finding nations to host them.
Uruguayan President Jose Mujica had publicly agreed in recent days to take the prisoners on humanitarian grounds, making them the first to be sent to South America and the largest transfer into the Western hemisphere. Mr. Mujica said in March, during earlier discussions about a prisoner transfer, that any Guantanamo detainees would be resettled in Uruguay as refugees.
Reports have suggested a prisoner release from Guantanamo was imminent, following the abrupt ouster of Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel, who administration officials had privately criticized as moving too slowly to empty the holding facility.
The Associated Press reported that Mr. Mujica had agreed to take the men in January and that Obama administration officials had been frustrated the defense secretary had not approved the move sooner. The AP said the deal sat for months on Mr. Hagel’s desk, awaiting his signature as required by law, but the Pentagon didn’t send the notification of the transfer to Congress until July.
Mr. Obama came into office in 2009 vowing to close down the detention center that was set up after the 9/11 attacks to lock up terror suspects outside restriction of U.S. law. But the president has been unable to fulfill the promise.
House Armed Services Committee Chairman Buck P. McKeon raised an alarm about the uptick in notification of pending Guantanamo releases at a recent hearing. Republicans have largely opposed releasing the suspected terrorists for fear that they will return to the battlefield.
Republican lawmakers also have been at odds with Mr. Obama over the notification process for transfers, after the president released five high-ranking Taliban fighters from Guantanamo in May exchange for the release of captured U.S. Army Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl.
The Pentagon said Sunday that 136 detainees remain at Guantanamo, which held as many as 800 suspected terrorists in the years immediately following the 9/11 attacks.
• Matthew Cella can be reached at email@example.com.
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