MONTEVIDEO (Reuters) - One of six detainees flown from the U.S. camp holding suspected terrorists in Guantanamo Bay for resettlement in Uruguay has thanked the South American country for helping free him from “that black hole”.
In an open letter published on Monday, the Syrian ex-detainee Omar Mahmoud Faraj also said 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 Uruguayan daily newspaper El Pais via his lawyer.
Uruguayan President Jose Mujica earlier this year accepted a request from the United States to take some inmates from the widely-condemned military prison at Guantanamo Bay in Cuba so that it can eventually be shut down.
Mujica has also said the six men - four Syrians, a Tunisian and a Palestinian - can leave Uruguay whenever they want.
They had all been held at Guantanamo for more than a decade. They are now being treated at a medical facility for checkups 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 open letter by saying he was a fan of Uruguay’s national soccer team and looked forward to supporting them in their next tournament.
Guantanamo was opened by former U.S. 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 lawyer 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 Creder told 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 Barack Obama promised to shut the prison when he took office nearly six years ago, but has been unable to do so, partly because of obstacles posed by the U.S. Congress.
Seven other prisoners have been transferred from Guantanamo since early November, including three to the republic of Georgia, two to Slovakia, one to Saudi Arabia and one to Kuwait. The prisoner population is still 136.
Writing by Sarah Marsh; Editing by Kieran Murray