MONTEVIDEO, Uruguay — One of six detainees flown from the U.S. camp holding terrorism suspects in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, for resettlement in Uruguay has thanked the South American country for helping free him from “that black hole.”
In an open letter published Monday, Syrian Omar Mahmoud Faraj also said that he and the other five men flown from Guantanamo to Uruguay on Sunday would show “only good will” to the country that offered them refugee status.
“If it had not been for Uruguay, I would still be in this black hole in Cuba,” he said in the letter sent to the Uruguayan daily El Pais via his attorney.
Uruguayan President José “Pepe” Mujica earlier this year accepted a U.S. request to take some inmates from the widely condemned military prison at Guantanamo Bay so it can eventually be shut down.
Mujica has said that the six men — four Syrians, a Tunisian and a Palestinian — can leave Uruguay whenever they want.
All of them had been held at Guantanamo for more than a decade. They are now being examined at a medical facility after being flown to Uruguay in a U.S. military transport plane.
“I have no words to express how grateful I am for the immense trust that you, the Uruguayan people, have placed in me and the other prisoners by opening the doors to your country,” said Faraj, who had been held for 12 years in Guantanamo.
“I wish to assure all Uruguayans, including the government, on behalf of myself and the other prisoners that we will only bring good will and positive contributions to Uruguay, learning Spanish and remaking our lives here.”
He concluded the letter by saying that he was a fan of Uruguay’s national soccer team and looked forward to supporting it in its next tournament.
Guantanamo was opened by President George W. Bush after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks on the United States to house terrorism suspects rounded up overseas. Most of the detainees have never been charged or tried.
The six men flown to Uruguay were cleared for release long ago and are not regarded as security threats. But U.S. authorities did not want to send them home, saying countries such as Syria, where a civil war is raging, were too risky.
The attorney for Jihad Diyab, another of the six men now in Uruguay, said the Syrian was planning to bring his family to Uruguay and work in a restaurant.
“The difference in the tone of voice since the last time I talked with him when he was in Guantanamo and now he is in Uruguay is incredible,” Cori Crider told the Uruguayan paper El Observador. “He’s another person.”
Diyab recently mounted a legal challenge against the U.S. military’s force-feeding of hunger strikers at Guantanamo.
President Obama promised to shutter the prison when he took office nearly six years ago, but he has been unable to do so, partly because of obstacles posed by Congress.
Seven other prisoners have been transferred from Guantanamo since early November, including three to Georgia, two to Slovakia, one to Saudi Arabia and one to Kuwait. The prisoner population now stands at 136.