Swiss resettle 2 Uighurs from Guantánamo, Georgia takes Libyans

03/24/2010 12:12 PM

07/30/2013 5:26 PM

The United States said Wednesday it sent two Uighur brothers from Guantánamo to start new lives in Switzerland, despite opposition from Beijing over what to do with the Chinese citizens.

The latest move, combined with the transfer of three captives from the U.S. Navy base in Cuba to the Republic of Georgia announced on Tuesday, left the detention center's census at 183 foreign captives from some two dozen countries.

A Justice Department announcement noted that the latest transfers had been earlier approved by the Bush administration, but was carried out through Obama era diplomacy.

``The United States is grateful to the government of Switzerland and the Canton of Jura for their willingness to support U.S. efforts to close the Guantánamo Bay detention facility,'' it said.

The departure of the men -- identified earlier as Arkin Mahmud, 45, and his brother Bahtiar, 32 -- also left only five Uighurs at Guantánamo, the last of 17 ethnic Muslim Chinese citizens whom a federal judge ordered freed in October 2008.

They had been segregated from the other war-on-terror captives in a chain-link-fence enclosed compound, Camp Iguana, where the military said they were granted greater freedoms, such as take-out fast food and computer games.

The U.S. Supreme Court on Monday spurned a request by the remaining Uighurs of Guantánamo to hear a facet of their case. Both the Swiss and Georgian transfers were carried out on Monday, according to military sources.

Wednesday's announcement also closed one of the saddest and stickiest chapters of the United States' effort to find sanctuary for men cleared of wrongdoing at the controversial camps:

One of the brothers had earlier been offered resettlement in the Pacific island nation of Palau, but refused to leave without the other, who reportedly developed a mental illness during his eight years in U.S. detention. Switzerland agreed to take the men in a deal sealed in February.

``The two Uighurs were neither charged with any crime nor condemned by the U.S. authorities; today they are free again,'' a Swiss government statement said Wednesday.

``They have expressly undertaken to respect the law in force and to learn the language spoken in their place of residence. They are also willing to take up a gainful employment and to provide for their basic needs.''

The Swiss had earlier taken in an Uzbek man from Guantánamo but Beijing was infuriated by the latest deal because it considers the Uighurs of Guantánamo to be members of a separatist, terrorist group that seeks independence from the communist country.

The Uighurs of Guantánamo had for years argued through lawyers they were not America's enemies, and that they feared persecution if they were repatriated. They said they had fled their homeland for religious freedom before the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks and were swept up in a dragnet of foreigners in the U.S. invasion of Afghanistan.

The Bush then Obama administrations resettled some in Albania but failed to find other countries to shelter the rest. The Obama administration cut deals that sent more to Bermuda and another batch to Palau.

Less was known Wednesday about the three men whom the Pentagon sent to Georgia on Monday.

Two of the three men were Libyans, according to Chicago attorney H. Candace Gorman, who identified one of them as her client Abdel Hamid al Ghazzawi, 47, a Libyan married to an Afghan with one child, a daughter. He ran a small shop in Jalalabad, Afghanistan, she said, until shortly before the American invasion, when he was handed over to U.S. forces.

The Bloomberg News service reported from Tbilisi that the Georgian government did not consider the men a threat. It quoted Interior Ministry spokesman Shota Utiashvili as saying they would be ``strictly monitored'' but not held in detention, and would be forbidden from leaving the country.

``The United States coordinated with the Georgia to ensure the transfers took place under appropriate security measures and consultations regarding these individuals will continue,'' a U.S. Justice Department statement said.

This week's was the first transfer from Guantánamo since the United States sent Palestinian Walid Hijazi, 30, to Spain for resettlement on Feb. 24.

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