WASHINGTON, D.C. – The U.S. Pentagon recently notified members of Congress that it intends to transfer six low-level detainees at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, to Uruguay soon, including a Syrian man who is legally challenging the manner in which the military force-feeds some prisoners, U.S. officials said Wednesday.
The men – four Syrians, a Palestinian and a Tunisian – are among the more than 70 detainees who have long been cleared for release from the U.S. detention facility because they are not deemed an ongoing threat. The move would mark a significant step in the Obama administration’s long-stymied quest to shut down Guantanamo Bay, where 149 inmates remain.
A congressional aide who spoke on the condition of anonymity said key lawmakers were notified about the imminent transfer last Thursday. None has publicly criticized the proposal. By law, the Pentagon must notify members of Congress of its intention to release Guantanamo Bay inmates at least 30 days in advance.
The men’s move to Uruguay would be the first release from the prison since the Obama administration incensed lawmakers in May by freeing five Afghan detainees in exchange for Army Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl, who had been held by the Taliban for five years, without notifying them.
The possible transfer has been under discussion for several months, but the congressional notification, which was first reported by The New York Times, suggests the deal has largely been sealed.
“The United States is grateful to our partner, Uruguay, for this significant humanitarian gesture, and appreciates the Uruguayan government’s generous assistance as the United States continues its efforts to close the detention facility at Guantanamo,” Ian Moss, a State Department spokesman, said in a statement.
If the men are transferred before the end of the summer, a lawsuit challenging the manner in which the U.S. military force-feeds detainees filed on behalf of one of the men, Jihad Ahmed Mujstafa Diyab, could be dismissed before a judge weighs in.
Diyab is among a number of detainees at Guantanamo Bay who have participated in hunger strikes to protest their incarceration. The Pentagon no longer releases the exact number of hunger strikers.
A Pentagon spokesman, Lt. Col. Jeffrey Pool, declined to comment on the congressional notification.
“We do not discuss the transfer of detainees from Guantanamo until the detainees have arrived at their final destination,” he said in an email.
The Uruguayan Embassy in Washington declined to comment on the timing of the release. Uruguayan President José “Pepe” Mujica told The Washington Post in an interview in May that his government had agreed to take in the detainees but was urging the Obama administration to move quickly.
“It can’t be too long,” he said. “I only have a few months of government left.”
Mujica, a former guerrilla leader, said he felt a measure of kinship with the inmates at Guantanamo Bay, having been locked up for 13 years during a period of military rule.
Washington Post researcher Julie Tate contributed to this report.
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