US prepares to transfer six Guantanamo prisoners to Uruguay

Relocation would be largest group to be moved from Cuba camp in five years

File photograph of detainees held in the US military prison for “enemy combatants” in Guantanamo Bay. Of the 143 prisoners still detained there, 71 are approved for transfer. Photograph: John Moore/Getty Images

The Pentagon has told members of the US Congress it plans to transfer six prisoners at the controversial Guantánamo Bay detention camp to Uruguay, the largest number to be moved to another country in five years.

Secretary of defence Chuck Hagel notified lawmakers about the transfers, which would cut the number of prisoners at the camp to 143, as the Pentagon must by law notify Congress about the release of Guantánamo inmates at least 30 days in advance.

The six prisoners include a Syrian man, Jihad Ahmed Mujstafa Diyab, who brought a legal action in a US court challenging Pentagon’s procedures on force-feeding detainees who are on hunger strike in protest at their indefinite incarceration without trial.

Three others are also Syrian; the other two are a Palestinian and a Tunisian, according to the New York Times which first reported the story.


The release of the prisoners comes as Guantánamo remains locked in stalemate with president Barack Obama still eager to fulfil a promise from 2009 to close the prison he inherited from the George W Bush administration, while rivals within the Republican Party are keen to see use of the camp extended.

Of the 143 prisoners, 71 are approved for transfer. The latest prisoner releases will be the first since May when the White House angered Congress by releasing five Afghan detainees in a prisoner swap for army sergeant Bowe Bergdahl, who had been held captive by the Taliban for five years, without telling them in advance.

The Obama administration defended the move, saying it was lawful to give no notice because of the risk to Mr Bergdahl’s life. Political criticism of the Bergdahl swap led to some reluctance within the Pentagon to proceed with the prisoner release to Uruguay. The deal has mooted earlier this year when Uruguayan president José Mujica offered to take prisoners because of his concern about treatment.

“They will be able to move freely,” Mr Mujica said in May. “They can leave. But they’ve been turned into walking skeletons. They’ve been destroyed by what they’ve gone through.”

Prisoners from Yemen

Well over half Guantánamo’s prison population are from Yemen, of which 56 have been approved for release. No prisoners have been sent back to the Middle East state since 2010. Transfers to Yemen were suspended after a Nigerian tried to detonate a bomb on a US-bound flight on Christmas Day 2009.

“Congress has been a thorn in the side of the administration certainly by interfering with Mr Obama’s ability to close Guantánamo but the main issue is that the president has to deal with the issue of Yemen,” said Wells Dixon, a senior attorney at the Centre for Constitutional Rights in New York.

“You have a prison that is fast becoming a prison not just for Muslim men but for Muslim men from Yemen . . . It is totally arbitrary and totally unlawful,” he said.

Simon Carswell

Simon Carswell

Simon Carswell is News Editor of The Irish Times