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In Largest Transfer Since 2009, 6 Leave Guantanamo For Uruguay


Nearly half the detainees at Guantanamo Bay in Cuba have been cleared by the United States military for transfer to other countries willing to take them. But finding those countries hasn't been easy. There are signs now that this is beginning to change. And over the weekend, six men were transferred from Guantanamo to the South American country of Uruguay. With more, we're joined by Adam Goldman of the Washington Post. He reports on terrorism and national security. Adam, good morning.

ADAM GOLDMAN: Hi, thanks for having me.

GREENE: OK, so four of these men are Syrian. One is Tunisian. One is Palestinian. Can you tell me some more about them?

GOLDMAN: Yeah, they were all picked up in 2002. Two of them were captured in raids in 2002 in Pakistan that netted a facilitator for al-Qaida named Abu Zubaydah, who's also at Gitmo. And the other ones were caught - some of the other ones were caught coming out of Tora Bora by the Pakistanis.

GREENE: So they're - I mean, they are suspected terrorists obviously. Now they're going - they've arrived, as I understand it, in Uruguay. And are they not going to be imprisoned? I mean, they're basically considered refugees and free to travel around the country, even outside the country?

GOLDMAN: That's right. That's what the president of Uruguay has said, himself a former political prisoner who spent some time in a hole. He has said that these people are going to be free, and they're going to be released.

GREENE: How much concern has been expressed about that?

GOLDMAN: Well, these people - in 2009, all these guys were cleared for release, and they weren't deemed a high threat. So I'm not sure how much - how much we really should be concerned about this. And one of the other interesting notes is even though there's a lot of information about what they were suspected of, some of that information is now being considered dubious. So what we actually know about them in terms of suspected terrorist activities is somewhat limited.

GREENE: But, Adam, an important distinction to make - we're talking about these six guys being transferred, not so much concern about them. There are people like Abu Zubaydah, who you mentioned, who is a high-value suspected terrorist picked up in 2002. A lot of people remember headlines about waterboarding. I mean, there are people in this prison who no one would never contemplate letting go free.

GOLDMAN: Yeah, that's right. And Zubaydah, who hasn't been charged by this government, he and others at the prison represent the thorniest issues because they don't want to let this guy go, but yet he hasn't been charged. And for the president of the United States, either President Obama or the next president, whether it's a Democrat or a Republican, the idea of closing that prison rests on what you do with these individuals, not necessarily the six we saw just go to Uruguay, right? They're easier to get rid of. Countries are willing to take them. What are you going to do with this core group of guys who are suspected of doing bad things, haven't been charged and really have nowhere to go?

GREENE: So it's very possible that we're going to see this population dwindle as we see moves like we're seeing with these six guys to Uruguay. But the toughest questions for the president remain down the road.

GOLDMAN: Yeah, without a doubt.

GREENE: Adam Goldman covers terrorism and national security for The Washington Post. Adam, thanks very much.

GOLDMAN: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.