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Chinese Uighur detainees at Guantanamo Bay held up a note to visiting media in June 2009. The men, who had been cleared for release but had nowhere to go, were eventually resettled.

File photo by Brennan Linsley • Associated Press,

3 detainees moved from Guantanamo to Slovakia

  • Article by: Adam Goldman
  • Washington Post
  • December 31, 2013 - 8:21 PM

 

The United States has transferred three Uighur Muslim detainees to Slovakia from the military prison at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, U.S. officials said Tuesday, the last members of the ethnic minority from China to be held at the military prison.

The trio had languished at Guantanamo for more than 10 years since their capture in Pakistan after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks — despite prior military assessments that they had no ties to Al-Qaida or the Taliban.

In 2008, a federal judge ruled that the Uighurs were being held unlawfully and ordered their release. Their transfer was delayed by repeated legal wrangling and attempts to find a country willing to accept them.

The Pentagon described the transfer as a “significant milestone.” Eight other prisoners have been moved from the detention facility since August, including two Saudis and two Algerians who returned to their countries earlier this month. An additional 155 detainees remain.

The detainees whose releases were announced Tuesday were identified as Yusef Abbas, Saidullah Khalik and Hajiakbar Abdul Ghuper. They agreed to resettle in Slovakia, officials said.

Returning the detainees to China was not an option for the United States because of fears that they might be treated harshly. A senior U.S. military official said the Chinese have put tremendous pressure on countries in an effort stop them from taking any of the Uighurs.

The official said that a deal was in place several weeks ago for the final three to go to Costa Rica, but the Chinese learned about the secret discussions and scuttled any possible arrangement. The United States had been talking to Slovakia, a member of NATO, for a year about taking some of the Uighurs, said the official, who spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to discuss diplomatic negotiations.

The Chinese Embassy in Washington did not immediately respond to an e-mail seeking comment.

Rear Adm. John Kirby, a Pentagon spokesman, said Slovakia’s decision to take the men was a “humanitarian gesture.” In a statement, he thanked the country for its “willingness to support U.S. efforts to close the Guantanamo Bay detention facility.”

Clifford Sloan, the State Department’s special envoy working on toward closure of Guantanamo, said 22 Uighurs from Guantanamo have been resettled to six countries.

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