(WASHINGTON) — Three Chinese Uighur detainees have been transferred from Guantanamo Bay to Slovakia, the Pentagon announced Tuesday, calling their transfer a “significant milestone” in efforts to close the prison.
The announcement comes five days after President Obama signed a National Defense Authorization Act that eased some restrictions on detainee transfers, praising Congress for easing those restrictions in a signing statement.
The three detainees — the last Uighurs held in Guantanamo — “were subject to release from Guantanamo as a result of a court order issued on Oct. 7, 2008, by the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia, and are voluntarily resettling in Slovakia,” Pentagon Press Secretary Rear Adm. John Kirby said.
Here is the full statement from Kirby:
“The Department of Defense is announcing today the transfer of Yusef Abbas, Saidullah Khalik, and Hajiakbar Abdul Ghuper from the detention facility at Guantanamo Bay to the Government of Slovakia.
“These three are the last ethnic Uighur Chinese nationals to be transferred. They were subject to release from Guantanamo as a result of a court order issued on Oct. 7, 2008, by the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia, and are voluntarily resettling in Slovakia.
“As directed by the president’s Jan. 22, 2009, executive order, the interagency Guantanamo Review Task Force conducted a comprehensive review of these cases. As a result of that review, which examined a number of factors, including security issues, these individuals were designated for transfer by unanimous consent among all six agencies on the task force.
“In accordance with statutory reporting requirements, the administration informed Congress of its intent to transfer these individuals.
“The United States is grateful to the government of Slovakia for this humanitarian gesture and its willingness to support U.S. efforts to close the Guantanamo Bay detention facility. The United States coordinated with the government of Slovakia to ensure the transfer took place in accordance with appropriate security and humane treatment measures.
“This transfer and resettlement constitutes a significant milestone in our effort to close the detention facility at Guantanamo Bay. Secretary Hagel remains grateful to the Defense Department’s Special Envoy Paul Lewis, and Department of State Special Envoy Cliff Sloan, for their and their respective teams’ many efforts that facilitated this successful transfer.
“Today, 155 detainees remain at Guantanamo Bay.”
Despite eased restrictions in the NDAA, closing Guantanamo has remained difficult. The administration has been working with Yemen to build a prison there to host Yemeni detainees, some of the most difficult to repatriate, but sticking points have included funding, internal politics in Yemen, opposition from human-rights groups, and whether the facility will be a prison or Saudi-style halfway house to rehabilitate detainees for release.
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Paul Cruickshank and Michael Pearson, CNN