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HomeNewsPoliticsObama Releases 6 More Guantanamo Bay Detainees Labeled As ‘Refugees’

Obama Releases 6 More Guantanamo Bay Detainees Labeled As ‘Refugees’


In this file photo taken Tuesday May 12, 2009 and reviewed by the U.S. military, a soldier stands guard at the front gate entrance to the Camp 6 maximum-security detention facility, at Guantanamo Bay U.S. Naval Base, Cuba. (Photo: AP)

The Obama administration said early Sunday that it had transferred six Guantanamo Bay detainees to Uruguay for resettlement as refugees. The move takes the White House one step further to closing down the detention center amid growing pressure from the president’s left, according to a recent report.

The six men, which have been detained as suspected militants with ties to Al Qaeda to a period of twelve years, had never been charged. In a statement, the Pentagon identified the men as four Syrians, a Tunisian and a Palestinian. They are the first Guantanamo Bay prisoners to be sent to South America and had been cleared for release since at least 2010.

However, they could not be sent home the U.S. couldn’t find countries willing to take them with “refugee” status.

The transfer freed 43-year-old Abu Wa’el Dhiab, a Syrian-born prisoner on a long-term hunger strike in protest of his confinement. Dhiab was the center figure of a legal battle in U.S. courts over the military’s force-feeding of prisoners who refuse to eat at the Guantanamo Bay detention center.

The other Syrians sent to Uruguay on Saturday were identified by the Pentagon as Ali Husain Shaaban, 32; Ahmed Adnan Ajuri, 37; and Abdelahdi Faraj, 39. Palestinian prisoner Mohammed Abdullah Taha Mattan, 35, and 49-year-old Adel bin Muhammad El Ouerghi of Tunisia, were also among the released.

The latest release brings the total number of prisoners at Guantanamo to 136 — which is the lowest number since the first month the prison opened in January 2002. The Obama administration said that the men no longer pose a threat, even though they cannot be allowed to return to their countries of origin.

However, a recent report  by PPD highlighted that U.S. intel officials believe upwards of 20 to 30 Guantanamo Bay detainees released by the Obama administration have joined the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria. Yet, the White House refused to comment on the possibility of other detainees — including these six detainees — rejoining the fight in the future. Instead, they praised Uruguay for their cooperation.

“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 said.

Mujica had agreed to take the men in January, but the long-standing fight between the administration and Congress prevented the White House from pulling the trigger on the transfer.

The Obama administration didn’t notify Congress of its intent to transfer the detainees to Uruguay until July, despite current laws passed in a broad bipartisan fashion that prohibit the executive branch from releasing Guantanamo Bay detainees without first providing notice to Congress in ample advance and receiving congressional approval.

Prisoners have been sent to various countries around the world, but never have so many transfers in nations located in the Western Hemisphere. In 2009, four were sent to Bermuda and, in 2012, two were sent to El Salvador.

The Associated Press reported that Obama administration officials have been frustrated that the transfer took so long and blame outgoing Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel for not approving the move sooner. Hagel, who recently resigned amid growing pressure from the White House to play scapegoat for various foreign policy failures and Democrats’ midterm defeats, offered no response or explanation for the delay.

The handoff was further delayed until after Uruguay’s October presidential election and late-November runoff when the transfer became a campaign issue. On Friday, Mujica reiterated his willingness to accept the detainees in an open letter to President Obama that appeared on the Uruguay leader’s official website.

Even though President Obama pledged to close the prison upon taking office, the policy was blocked by both Republicans and Democrats in Congress. Bipartisan legislation banned sending prisoners to the U.S. for any reason, including trial, and placed restrictions on sending them abroad.

A recent Government Accountability Office investigation concluded that the Obama administration violated the law when it ordered the Pentagon to swap the Taliban Five detainees for Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl, a known deserter who was held prisoner in Afghanistan for five years after abandoning his post. The government watchdog agency said the administration’s failure to notify the relevant congressional committees at least 30 days in advance of the exchange was a clear violation of the law.

Nevertheless, the slow pace of releases had been cited as a cause for the hunger strike that began in February 2013, and at one time included as many as 100 prisoners, including Dhiab and Faraj.

The restrictions on sending them overseas have been eased and the U.S. has released 19 prisoners so far this year. According to a recent report, administration officials, say several more are expected by the end of the year, despite public opinion overwhelmingly opposing the policy.

“The closing of Guantanamo Bay and releasing of detainees remains a radical left position in America,” says PPD’s senior political analyst Rich Baris, who has examined public opinion on the issue for years. “The anti-Guantanamo crowd is loud, but they have been in the minority since Obama first made the issue a central campaign promise in 2008. Even a majority of Democrats oppose that idea.”

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