The Defense Department announced that six Guantánamo Bay detainees who had been cleared for release several years ago were transferred to Uruguay over the weekend.
The detainees released were 32-year-old Ali Husain Shaaban, 37-year-old Ahmed Adnan Ajuri, 39-year-old Abdelahdi Faraj, 35-year-old Mohammed Abdullah Taha Mattan, 49-year-old Adel bin Muhammad El Ouerghi, and 43-year-old Abu Wa’el Dhiab.
Dhiab’s story, previously covered by Benswann.com, attracted significant national attention surrounding the prison’s treatment of detainees due to a lawsuit he had filed with help from human rights organization Reprieve challenging force-feeding practices at the prison.
Dhiab had been imprisoned at Guantánamo since 2002 despite the fact that no charges were brought against him and he was cleared for release in 2009.
Dhiab protested his time spent at Guantánamo by declaring a hunger strike that resulted in repeated forced feedings. Attorneys for Dhiab claimed that the feedings were causing substantial suffering, and a press release from Reprieve stated that he was denied access to his wheelchair and “brutally dragged from his cell and force-fed against his will every day.” A Navy nurse who had been force-feeding Dhiab revolted against the procedure and refused to continue, calling it a “criminal act”.
The legal battle challenging his treatment resulted in over a dozen media outlets including the New York Times and Associated Press pressing for the release of videotapes documenting Dhiab’s forced feedings.
In October, United States District Judge Gladys Kessler ordered those tapes to be unsealed, dismissing the federal government’s argument that publicizing the videos would compromise national security. The Obama administration appealed Kessler’s ruling on December 2nd.
An agreement between the United States and Uruguayan President Jose Mujica regarding transfer of the detainees was reached early this year, and Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel received criticism from Obama administration officials for allowing the agreement to remain on his desk for months without signing it and waiting until July to inform Congress that he was approving it.
“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,”said State Department envoy Cliff Sloan. “The support we are receiving from our friends and allies is critical to achieving our shared goal of closing Guantánamo.”
According to the New York Times, the Obama administration expects that if Guantánamo’s prison population is reduced to under 100 detainees Congress may overturn a law that prohibits them from being held on American soil, signaling a potential initiative to actually close Guantánamo.