WASHINGTON – The Obama administration has all but abandoned plans to allow Guantanamo detainees who have been cleared for release to live in the United States, administration officials said Thursday, a decision that reflects bipartisan congressional opposition to admitting such prisoners but complicates efforts to convince European allies to accept them.
Four Uighur detainees, Chinese Muslims who were incarcerated at the U.S. military prison at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, for more than seven years, arrived Thursday 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 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 Thursday, 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 Thursday 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 Barack Obama has said will be necessary to incarcerate detainees who are too dangerous to release but who cannot be prosecuted.