The head of the Organization of American States issued a statement Monday night urging member nations to resettle cleared Guantánamo detainees, a step toward helping the United States close its controversial prison in southeast Cuba.
“I request respectfully that those countries that can do so, in a manner consistent with their national policies and their internal legal framework, consider receiving people currently detained in Guantánamo,” OAS Secretary General José Miguel Insulza said in the statement that appeared on the organization’s website Monday night.
Resettling detainees would “allow them to resume their lives following their prolonged detention,” he added.
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After the European Parliament adopted a similar resolution in 2009, European countries negotiated case-by-case resettlement for about two dozen cleared detainees. Spain took three.
Only six prisoners were released this year: A detainee sent back to his native Algeria in March and five Taliban members in return for long-held captive U.S. Army Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl, a controversial exchange.
The appeal by Insulza comes as U.S. diplomats are seeking to negotiate resettlement deals for long-ago cleared detainees in South America. Uruguay’s President Jose Mujica has agreed to take in six men in a deal that has been put on the back burner until after his successor is elected Oct. 26 but before the inauguration. An opposition candidate is opposing the deal.
At the State Department Tuesday, the special envoy who has spearheaded the Obama administration resettlement effort, Cliff Sloan, issued a formal statement of gratitude for the support.
“We greatly appreciate Secretary General Insulza’s statement,” said Sloan. “Transferring the 79 detainees who have been approved for transfer is a very high priority as we move forward on closing the Guantánamo detention facility.”
Insulza’s statement noted that “half of the prisoners that remain in Guantánamo are in conditions to be freed, but have not been for the lack of a country that will receive them.”
He added that they had never been charged with or convicted of a crime, “nor will they be,” and cast their plight as a “serious humanitarian case in the territory of the Americas.”
So far, only OAS member state El Salvador has resettled Guantánamo detainees.
In 2012, it took in two Muslim Uighurs, former Chinese citizens who fled religious oppression in their homeland and were captured in Afghanistan and spent years in the prison camps in Cuba. They have since left that Central American country, reportedly for new lives in Turkey.
OAS member the United States has a ban against resettling detainees, imposed by Congress. And fellow member Canada has only taken home one detainee, citizen Omar Khadr, who is serving a Guantánamo war court sentence in a Canadian prison.
The Miami Herald’s Carol Rosenberg also reports @CarolRosenberg on Twitter
The OAS secretary-general’s full statement is here.