The six — four Syrians, a Tunisian and a Palestinian — were detained as suspected militants with ties to al-Qaeda but were never charged. The Pentagon statement said the U.S. worked with Uruguay’s government to ensure the transfers took place.
The government named the men as Ahmed Adnan Ahjam, Ali Hussain Shaabaan, Omar Mahmoud Faraj, Abdul Bin Mohammed Abis Ourgy, Mohammed Tahanmatan, and Jihad Diyab.
The six are the first prisoners transferred to South America from the detention camp in Cuba, part of a number of recent releases amid a renewed push by President Barack Obama to close the prison.
Uruguayan President Jose Mujica agreed to accept the men as a humanitarian gesture and said they would be given help getting established. The country has a small Muslim population.
The men have been cleared for release since at least 2010 but the U.S. struggled to find countries willing to accept them.
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, according to the Associated Press.
They said the deal sat for months on 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.
Uruguayan officials then decided to postpone the transfer until after the presidential elections on Oct. 26. Tabare Vazquez, a member of Mujica’s ruling coalition and a former president, won a runoff election on Nov. 30. He is is due to begin his new mandate in March.
The case was reviewed by the Guantanamo Review Task Force, as directed by an executive order by Obama on Jan. 22, 2009, the Pentagon statement said.
The statement added: “As a result of that review, which examined a number of factors, including security issues, these men were unanimously approved for transfer by the six departments and agencies comprising the task force.
“The United States is grateful to the Government of Uruguay for its willingness to support ongoing U.S. efforts to close the Guantanamo Bay detention facility.”
Some 136 detainees remain at Guantanamo Bay – the lowest number since the first month the prison opened in January 2002.
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