MONTEVIDEO, Uruguay (AP) – The United States guaranteed that six former Guantánamo Bay prisoners had not been involved in terrorism before they arrived to Uruguay as refugees, President Jose Mujica said on Tuesday.
On Dec. 8, the Pentagon freed to Uruguay four Syrians, a Palestinian and a Tunisian, long ago cleared captives — the first Guantánamo prisoners to be sent to South America. Mujica agreed to accept the men as a humanitarian gesture and has said they would be given help getting established in a country of 3.3 million people that has a Muslim population of about 300.
During a Tuesday press conference, Mujica showed a document from the U.S. State Department dated Dec. 2 saying there’s no information that “the men were involved in conducting or facilitating terrorist activities against the United States or its partners or its allies.” Members of Uruguay’s opposition had requested the release of the documents as proof that the men are not dangerous.
“I never doubted, just by using my common sense, that they were paying for something they never did,” Mujica said. “We considered this to be a just cause and we had to help them.”
After getting medical check-ups and being released from a military hospital, the men have been staying at a Montevideo house as guests of a major labor union. They have been taking Spanish classes as part of a gradual introduction to their new lives.
Four of them were seen strolling through Uruguay’s capital last week and stopping to buy cheese and bread in their first long walk in freedom. The former detainee with the greatest physical problems is Abu Wa’el Dihab, who carried out an extended hunger strike before he was released. He is using crutches and has been less social than the others.
The six men were detained as suspected militants with ties to al-Qaeda in 2002 but were never charged. They had been cleared for release since 2009 but could not be sent home. The U.S. had struggled to find countries willing to take them.
See a photo gallery of the former detainees out and about in Montevideo here.