On December 7, six Guantanamo prisoners flew to Uruguay. There were four Syrians, a Palestinian, and a Tunisian. The six had never been charged and had been cleared for release five years ago in 2009. Ali al-Shaaban, a 32-year-old Syrian, had been held in Guantanamo for the last 12 years as a suspected member of Al-Qaeda. He was moved by the kindness shown him in Uruguay and said:
“We are so happy to be here...We are very grateful to President Mujica for everything he’s done. I don’t want to let Mujica down.”
Jose Mujica said that his move to receive the prisoners was meant as a humanitarian gesture. Mujica knows what it is like to be incarcerated in harsh conditions as the 79-year-old was a Tupamaros guerrilla who spent 13 years in prison, two in solitary confinement, during the time of a military dictatorship in Uruguay. Mujica said: “It’s a very traumatic situation, I can’t transmit how they must feel, some of us have lived through similar things.”
One of those released, Syrian Abu Dhiab, is still under medical supervision as he is extremely frail as the result of a hunger strike to protest his continued detention. His lawyer, Cori Crider, said that Dhiab did not believe he was being released until he was on the plane. Crider said:
“You inhale the air for the first time as a free man and only then it’s real. It’s going to take some time for him to come down from his hunger strike, he’s six foot five and only weighs about 148 pounds, he’s extremely thin, in pain, emaciated and still confined to a wheelchair.”
The six being released spent the nine-hour flight to Montevideo in handcuffs, shackles, and blindfolds, according to their lawyers. The Uruguayans who met the six insisted that they not walk off the plane in shackles and demanded they should step onto Uruguayan soil as free men. Crider has been congratulated in the street and received clapping and congratulations from people who recognize her from appearances on local media. She said: “It’s amazing, The good will from the government and even from people on the street is unlike anything I have encountered in my 10 years of doing this.”
Even the US State Department envoy, Clifford Sloan, had praise for Uruguay's actions:
“We are very grateful to Uruguay for this important humanitarian action, and to President Mujica for his strong leadership in providing a home for individuals who cannot return to their own countries."The six are the first Guantanamo prisoners to be transferred to South America. Mujica agreed to receive the six back in January. Outgoing Defense Minister Chuck Hagel is blamed by the Obama administration for letting the deal sit on his desk for months until finally sending the notification to Congress in July. The total number of prisoners at Guantanamo is now 136. The US has released 19 prisoners so far this year. Officials say that several more will be transferred out by the end of this year. Even so, it appears quite unlikely that Guantanamo will be closed soon.
The recently passed defense bill had several passages that may block Obama's attempts to close Guantanamo:
The bill rejected President Obama's request to approve the closure of the US military prison in Guantanamo Bay. It also extended a ban on transferring inmates from the prison to the US.Even if all those recommended for release were transferred out, there would still be 69 prisoners left at Guantanamo. Alka Pradhanm, counterterrorism counsel for Reprive US, a human rights organization, does not think that Obama will focus on closing Guantanamo in spite of his continuing promises:
"So we're stuck with Guantanamo. Now, we're in a hole. I tend to be a pessimist about it. No matter what the President continues to say, I don't think this is his priority anymore."
There is opposition in Washington to releasing more prisoners, stoked by the fact that almost 17 percent of the 620 detainees released so far returned to terrorist activities, according to a report in September 2014 by the director of national intelligence. The rise of the Islamic State helps to fan fears in Congress and the general public. The head of IS, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, was captured and held by the US in a US-run prison in Iraq in 2004 but released later in the year. While continuing indefinite detention often with harsh treatment may actually fuel international terrorism many Americans and their representatives will see the practice as justified as part of the war on terrorism and to protect American lives