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U.S. Transfers 6 Guantánamo Detainees to Uruguay


The largest group of detainees that's left the prison in Guantanamo Bay in five years arrived in South America this morning. The Defense Department announced that six men who had long been cleared for release were flown to Uruguay, where they will be resettled. To understand what this means for the future of the U.S. military prison at Guantanamo Bay, we turned to New York Times correspondent Charlie Savage. Charlie, can you quickly give us a sketch of the men who were released?

CHARLIE SAVAGE: These six men were all cleared for release if security conditions could be met in the receiving country back in 2009. But they remained stranded at Guantanamo because they come from countries with troubled security conditions. There's Tunisians, Syrians and a Palestinian in this bunch. And so at the beginning of this year, the president of Uruguay offered to resettle half a dozen men and chose these six. Today, they started a new life in Uruguay.

RATH: And since that agreement was reached, you know, some months back, why did this finally happen today?

SAVAGE: This - the details of this agreement were hammered out and finalized in March. And what happened was that under a statute enacted by Congress, the secretary of defense has to approve any such deal and let Congress know that he personally has decided that their risk of recidivism have been sufficiently mitigated, and it's a good idea to let someone go to a particular country. And Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel dragged his feet on approving this deal. He'd only finally approved it in July. And so when the United States was finally ready to move and sent a military aircraft to Guantanamo in August to take them into Uruguay, conditions had changed there. And the president of Uruguay said he did not want to go through with the deal at that point because they were in the midst their presidential election to take his successor. So they had to go through that, which went into a runoff, and only now, in December, was he ready to say, OK, you can send them now.

RATH: Charlie, you mentioned Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel dragging his feet on this release. And you report that that delay has been a point of contention between the secretary and the president. Can you explain what happened, if it played a role in Hagel's resignation?

SAVAGE: So it wouldn't be just this particular deal, but throughout 2014, there has been recurring tensions with the - Susan Rice and others in the White House on Hagel, saying, you've got to move on these things. These things are sitting on your desk, gathering dust. And the president's policy is we need to close this prison.

RATH: And you write about how the pace of releases has picked up recently. How would you - I mean, you've been covering this for a while, Charlie. How would you rate the chances of Pres. Obama making good on his promise to close the prison in Guantanamo before his term ends?

SAVAGE: You know, in my opinion, as an observer, I see zero chance that Congress will change, in the next two years, a statute that says no Guantanamo detainee may be brought into the United States for any purpose. And Pres. Obama's plan for closing Guantanamo is to take 50, 60 men who are deemed un-triable, but un-releasable - those who are not low-level detainees, in other words - and bring them to a different prison inside the United States. There doesn't seem to be any appetite among Republicans in Congress to facilitate that policy. And so absent some extraordinary assertion of executive authority of the president, I don't think that Guantanamo's likely to be closed when Obama leaves office.

RATH: Charlie Savage, is a reporter for The New York Times. Charlie, thank you.

SAVAGE: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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