Obama Gives Up on Resettling Cleared Guantanamo Detainees in U.S., Officials Say

By Peter Finn and Sandhya Somashekhar
Washington Post Staff Writers
Friday, June 12, 2009

The Obama administration has all but abandoned plans to allow Guantanamo Bay detainees who have been cleared for release to live in the United States, administration officials said yesterday, a decision that reflects bipartisan congressional opposition to admitting such prisoners but complicates efforts to persuade European allies to accept them.

Four Uighur detainees, Chinese Muslims who were incarcerated at the U.S. military prison in Cuba for more than seven years, arrived early yesterday in Bermuda, where they will become foreign guest workers. An administration official said the United States is engaged in negotiations with other countries, including Palau, an island nation in the western Pacific, to find places for the remaining 13 Uighurs held at Guantanamo.

The Uighurs, who were ordered released by a federal judge last year, never counted America as an enemy, according to the men's lawyers and human rights groups, giving the administration grounds to argue that they should live in the United States. Picked up in Pakistan and Afghanistan in 2002, the Uighurs were later cleared of the "enemy combatant" label but remained in minimum-security confinement at Guantanamo.

Attempting to settle non-Uighur detainees in the United States would generate even greater congressional opposition, and the administration has decided not to pursue it broadly, an administration official said yesterday, speaking on the condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the issue. But he said there may yet be "a few" candidates for settlement in the United States among the dozens of Guantanamo detainees who have been cleared for release.

Congressional Democrats yesterday reached agreement on a war-funding bill that would allow detainees to be sent to the United States for trial. The draft bill included no provision for prolonged detention without trial, a step that President Obama has said will be necessary to incarcerate detainees who are too dangerous to release but who cannot be prosecuted.

The four released Uighurs -- Huzaifa Parhat, 38, Abdul Semet, 32, Abdul Nasser, 32, and Jalal Jalaladin, 29 -- were flown out of Guantanamo on a chartered plane early yesterday and are staying in a guesthouse in Bermuda.

"They are thrilled to be free and trying to get a sense of where they are," said Susan Baker Manning, a lawyer for the four men who accompanied them on the flight. "They are understandably very eager to put their lives back together."

Nasser thanked the government and people of Bermuda, which is a British territory. "Growing up under communism," he said, "we always dreamed of living in peace and working in free society like this one. Today you have let freedom ring."

British officials, however, expressed displeasure that they were not consulted about the transfer. A Foreign Office spokesperson in London questioned "whether this falls within [Bermuda's] competence or is a foreign affairs or security issue for which the Bermuda Government do not have delegated responsibility."

Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton later discussed the matter with Foreign Secretary David Miliband to assuage British concerns.

Shortly before the announcement of the transfer to Bermuda, Qin Gang, a spokesman for the Chinese Foreign Ministry, called the Uighur detainees "terrorist suspects" and insisted they be returned to China. The Obama administration has ruled that out, fearing they could be tortured or executed.

Two other Guantanamo detainees, an Iraqi and a Chadian, were released and arrived in their countries yesterday. The Chadian, Mohammed El Gharani, was the youngest detainee at Guantanamo. He was 14 when he was picked up in Pakistan in 2001 and turned over to U.S. authorities.

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