The Pentagon has notified Congress of its intent to transfer six low-level Guantánamo Bay detainees to Uruguay as early as August, according to officials with knowledge of the exchange.
The officials, who spoke on condition of anonymity because it is the Obama administration’s policy not to publicly confirm such notifications, said Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel alerted Congress of the plan last week. The transfer itself will not occur until at least 30 days after Congress was notified.
This would be the first transfer of detainees from the Cuban site since May, when five former high-level Taliban fighters were transferred to Qatar in exchange for Bowe Bergdahl, the Army sergeant who had been held as a prisoner of war for five years by the Taliban. Both Hagel and President Barack Obama faced significant criticism about the Berghdahl deal from members of Congress, who were angry they did not receive the required 30-day notice prior to the trade. Lawmakers from both sides of the aisle called the deal illegal.
The transfer of these six prisoners had been awaiting Pentagon approval since March, but the process was put on hold as a result of the debate over the Bergdahl prisoner exchange. Following the deal, the Republican-led House passed a largely partisan vote in favor of a proposal that would prohibit the transfer of any detainee. However, Hagel’s announcement appears to indicate a return to business as usual.
Uruguay President José Mujica has been offering to accept prisoners from Guantánamo since early this year, calling the facility a “disgrace” and saying that Uruguay should play in role in helping to close the prison. The detainee transfer would be the first of its kind with a Latin American country.
The six detainees set for transfer include four Syrians, one Palestinian and one Tunisian. One of the Syrian men, who has been held at Guantánamo Bay for 12 years, recently brought a case before a U.S. federal court challenging the practice of forcibly feeding prisoners who are on a hunger strike.
The transfer of the six prisoners would leave the inmate population at 143. Of those remaining detainees, 72 are recommended for transfer.
Obama has pledged to close the prison, which has been a hotly contested political issue, both at home and the international level, since it opened in 2002, but has faced strong resistance from Republicans in Congress.