Monday, December 8, 2014

Six Guantanamo Detainees Released in Push to Close Prison

Six Guantanamo Detainees Released in Push to Close Prison

Photographer: Mladen Antonov/AFP/Getty Images
A U.S. soldier walks next to the razor wire-topped fence at the abandoned "Camp X-Ray"... Read More
Six suspected terrorists held at the U.S. detention facility at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, have been released to be resettled in Uruguay, the largest transfer of detainees since 2009 and the first to South America.
The releases are part of a push by President Barack Obama to accelerate transfers of Guantanamo detainees, many held since before he took office promising to close the facility that once held hundreds of suspected members of al-Qaeda.
One of those released was Jihad Diyab, a 43-year-old Syrian held for 12 years without trial, who went on several hunger strikes and challenged his force-feeding in court.
Obama’s efforts to close the Guantanamo prison have been resisted by members of Congress who oppose prosecuting alleged terrorists in the U.S. and who have asserted that released detainees have gone back to attacking Americans.
The U.S. government conducted an interagency review to determine whether the detainees met the standards for release, including whether they posed a security threat, according to a statement issued today by the Defense Department. Congress was informed in advance of the release, the department said.
“The United States coordinated with the government of Uruguay to ensure these transfers took place consistent with the appropriate security and humane treatment measures,” the department said.

Uruguay Arrival

In addition to Diyab, the others released were Ahmed Adnan Ahjam, Ali Hussain Shaabaan and Omar Mahmoud Faraj of Syria; Abdul Bin Mohammed Abis Ourgy of Tunisia; and Palestinian Mohammed Tahanmatan. The prisoners arrived in Uruguay late yesterday, a Pentagon spokesman said.
Uruguay’s Foreign Ministry said in a statement today that it will respect humanitarian protection standards for the released prisoners.
“We’ve offered our hospitality for human beings who have suffered a terrible kidnapping in Guantanamo,” President Jose Mujica wrote in a Dec. 5 letter to Obama, quoted by Uruguay’s ministry. “The unavoidable reason is humanitarian.”
Mujica, a former urban guerrilla fighter, agreed earlier this year to resettle the detainees.
After the releases, the detention center on U.S.-held territory in Cuba still holds 136 prisoners on suspicion they have ties to terrorist organizations including al-Qaeda, the department said in the statement.

Executive Order

President George W. Bush began using the detention facility in Cuba to hold suspected and accused terrorists after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks. Obama campaigned for president promising to close Guantanamo, saying it attracted international criticism of U.S. detention policies and interrogation practices. Facing congressional opposition, Obama backed away from an executive order to close the prison that he issued the day he took office.
The release of the six prisoners was personally approved by Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel, who is stepping down amid tensions with Obama’s White House advisers. One point of tension has been Hagel’s reluctance to sign off on proposed prisoner releases as not posing a risk to national security.
Hagel visited a forward operating base in Afghanistan earlier today and didn’t comment on the release.
Rear Admiral John Kirby, the Pentagon spokesman, said on Nov. 25 that Hagel “fully supports the president’s policy that the Guantanamo detention facility should close and that those detainees should be transferred out of there.”
In 2012, Republicans on the House Armed Services Committee released a report asserting that about 27 percent of 600 detainees released from Guantanamo have been confirmed or suspected of returning to terrorist or insurgent activities. Democrats on the panel dismissed the report as “smoke and mirrors.”
The annual defense authorization bill that passed the House last week would extend a congressional ban on closing the prison.
To contact the reporter on this story: Maura Reynolds in Washington at
To contact the editors responsible for this story: Maura Reynolds at Joe Schneider

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