Two Uighur detainees were released from the detainee center at the Guantanamo Bay Naval Facility to El Salvador Thursday, the first detainees transferred from the facility in more than a year and the first such transfer to Latin America.
As a presidential candidate, President Obama famously promised to close down the detainee center at Guantanamo - as did his then-opponent, Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz. - but Democrats and Republicans in Congress have prevented him from doing so.
As of Friday, 169 detainees remain at Guantanamo. The Obama administration has judged 46 of them candidates for indefinite detention - too dangerous to transfer to another country, according to the administration, their cases not feasible for prosecution because evidence against them may be tainted. The other 123 are candidates for transfer to other countries or prosecution here or abroad.
The two detainees now in El Salvador - Abdul Razak and Ahmed Mohamed - are Uighurs, members of a Turkic Muslim minority from the Xinjiang province of far-west China.
The Center for Constitutional Rights, which represented one of the two men (and would not specific which was its client) noted that the gap between this and the previous transfer marked "the longest period of time without a transfer since the prison opened in January 2002.
J. Wells Dixon of CCR said: "We encourage other countries in Latin America to follow El Salvador's lead and safely resettle men from Guantánamo who cannot return to their countries of nationality for fear of persecution, including our client Djamel Ameziane whose case is pending before the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights."
Seventeen Uighurs were living in the Tora Bora mountains in Afghanistan run by the Eastern Turkistan Islamic Movement, a Uighur independence group the State Department designated as terrorist three years after their capture. Evidence indicates that some of the Uighurs intended to fight the Chinese government and received firearms training at the camp. They fled to Pakistan after U.S. aerial strikes destroyed their camp after September 11, 2001 and were turned over to the U.S. military and detained as "enemy combatants" though they had no apparent animus towards the U.S.
A case involving the Uighurs, Parhat v Gates, resulted in the court concluding there wasn't enough reliable evidence in the record to establish that the Eastern Turkistan Islamic Movement was "associated with" al Qaeda or the Taliban or that the Eastern Turkistan Islamic Movement engaged in hostilities against the US or its allies - two criteria the Bush administration acknowledged were necessary to justify the long-term detention of the Uighurs. The Bush administration ruled it would no longer try to hold the Uighurs as enemy combatants.
There were 242 detainees at Gitmo when President Obama took office; 69 have been transferred to other countries, including other Uighurs to Palau.