Estonia agrees to resettle a Guantánamo detainee

Tallinn, Estonia is among Europe’s best preserved medieval cities.
Tallinn, Estonia is among Europe’s best preserved medieval cities. ALLAN ALAJAAN

The Baltic nation of Estonia said Thursday it had agreed to resettle one of Guantánamo’s 79 pre-cleared captives — a day after Uruguay’s president linked his commitment to take in six prisoners to a dialogue with his successor.

The Estonian government made the announcement in a statement that did not name the captive it would offer an opportunity to start a new life there after likely more than a decade at the prison in Cuba.

The last time Europe took in a detainee for resettlement was in December 2013. Slovakia took in three Uighur men, Muslims from China who’d been ordered released by the courts years before but feared repatriation to their homeland.

European offers mostly dried up in President Barack Obama’s first term. Europe nations that initially agreed to help him close the controversial detention center began to balk, according to leaked State Department cables, because the Obama administration has not brought any to start new lives on U.S. soil.

In February 2009, an Estonian diplomat told an American envoy in Brussels that the United States needed to begin educating its own citizens “that while some detainees are very dangerous, many of them do not pose a serious threat,” according to one cable made public by the anti-secrecy group WikiLeaks.

As of this week, the prison held 149 war-on-terror detainees in an operation of some 2,200 Pentagon employees, mostly U.S. Army troops. Only 10 of 149 captives’ cases are being handled at the war court. One was convicted, two have struck plea agreements in exchange for eventual testimony and get-out-of-Guantánamo deals; and seven are accused of war crimes — five for allegedly orchestrating the Sept. 11 terror attacks.

Another six are among 79 captives cleared for release and are on standby for resettlement to Uruguay. That deal was struck earlier this year, according to Obama administration officials, but was put on hold first by Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel’s reluctance to sign off on it and now by Uruguay, which is in the midst of a national election campaign.

President Jose Mujica, who made the agreement with Obama as a humanitarian gesture, cast some doubt on the deal Wednesday by saying he would consult with his successor once he’s elected. The first round of elections is Oct. 26.

The Estonian statement said the issue came up this week at a meeting of the cabinet, which agreed “in principle” to take in a man “who has not been convicted of a crime.” It described the captive generically as a man who would be at risk if he were repatriated to his homeland but did not specify his nationality.

It added that the decision was an illustration of its “willingness to contribute to the efforts of the United States to close the Guantánamo detention facility.”

The U.S. embassy in Tallinn followed up with a thank-you statement.

“The United States of America and Estonia enjoy an exceptionally close relationship marked by cooperation in countless areas and mutual support,” said U.S. Ambassador Jeffrey Levine. “Estonia’s support of our efforts serves as yet another example of that cooperation as well as the highly responsible role Estonia plays in international affairs.”

The embassy said Estonia would be joining the company of 19 other nations that have resettled Guantánamo detainees since 2009. A Miami Herald count puts that figure at 18 because it does not include Italy, which took in two captives for prosecution.

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