Dec 7, 2014 12:54 PM
US sends 6 prisoners from Guantanamo to Uruguay
The Associated Press
MONTEVIDEO, Uruguay (AP) Six Guantanamo Bay prisoners sent to Uruguay to be resettled as refugees are doing well and are undergoing medical checkups before being released to begin new lives, the country's defense minister said Monday.
Eleuterio Fernandez Huidobro told local radio Carve that the six, who arrived early Sunday, will be fully welcomed into Uruguayan society, getting jobs and bringing their families.
He said that one of the men who had been on a long-term hunger strike has begun eating and will soon be released from the hospital.
The six four Syrians, a Tunisian and a Palestinian were detained as suspected militants with ties to al-Qaeda in 2002 but were never charged. They had been cleared for release since 2009 but could not be sent home and the U.S. struggled to find countries willing to take them.
Fernandez Huidobro said suspicions the men were part of a terrorist cell were "pure silliness."
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 of 3.3 million with a total Muslim population of perhaps 300 people.
Uruguay already has taken in 42 Syrian civil war refugees, who arrived in October, and has said it will take about 80 more.
They are coming to what may be the only country in the Americas without an Islamic mosque, said Tamar Chaky, director of the Islamic Cultural Organization of Uruguay. He promised that the local Muslim community would welcome them, but said there had been no contact with the government.
The U.S. has now transferred 19 prisoners out of Guantanamo this year, all but one of them within the last 30 days, and 136 remain, the lowest number since shortly after the prison opened in January 2002. Officials say several more releases are expected by the end of the year.
Upon taking office, Obama had pledged to close the prison but was blocked by Congress, which banned sending prisoners to the U.S. for any reason, including trial, and placed restrictions on sending them abroad.
The U.S. now holds 67 men at Guantanamo who have been cleared for release or transfer but, like the six sent to Uruguay, can't go home because they might face persecution, a lack of security or some other reason.
Prisoners from Guantanamo have been sent around the world but this weekend's transfer was the largest group sent to the Western Hemisphere. Four Guantanamo prisoners were sent to Bermuda in 2009 and two were sent to El Salvador in 2012 but have since left.
Ben Fox wrote from Miami. Associated Press writers Nedra Pickler in Washington and Luis Andres Henao in Santiago, Chile, contributed to this report.