WASHINGTON — Six Chinese Muslim Uighurs who had been held at Guantanamo Bay were transferred to the Pacific island nation of Palau to be resettled there, the US Justice Department and lawyers said.
The men, who had been held on the US military base in Cuba for over seven years despite being cleared of all charges, arrived on Sunday local time in Palau "to begin rebuilding their lives in freedom," New York-based lawyers for three of the former prisoners said.
In announcing the transfer, the Justice Department named the former detainees as Ahmad Tourson, Abdul Ghappar Abdul Rahman, Edham Mamet, Anwar Hassan, Dawut Abdurehim and Adel Noori.
"These men want nothing more than to live peaceful, productive lives in a free, democratic nation safe from oppression by the Chinese," said Eric Tirschwell of Kramer Levin Naftalis & Frankel.
"Thanks to Palau, which has graciously offered them a temporary home, they now have that chance. We hope that another country will soon step forward to provide them permanent sanctuary."
The former prisoners were among 22 Uighurs -- a Muslim minority from China's remote Xinjiang region -- living at a self-contained camp in Afghanistan when the US-led invasion of the country began in October 2001.
Amid US administration fears that they face persecution if returned to China, five were freed in 2006 and sent to Albania, and four have been resettled in Bermuda. The others have remained in legal limbo.
The six prisoners transferred to Palau and the seven Uighurs now remaining at Guantanamo -- where 215 "war on terror" suspects are still detained -- contend they should be released in the United States and the US Supreme Court has agreed to hear their case early next year.
A federal judge last year ordered that the men be released to US soil, where families from the large Uighur community are willing to host them.
Matthew Olsen, executive director of the Guantanamo Review Task Force charged with reviewing the detainee cases, said the United States was "grateful to the Republic of Palau for its assistance in the resettlement of these individuals."
Washington, he said, had coordinated with Palau "to ensure the transfers take place under appropriate security measures."
Since the notorious jail was opened in January 2002 under former president George W. Bush, over 550 detainees have been transferred to other countries.
The move comes as President Barack Obama faces mounting challenges at home and abroad to meet his self-assigned deadline to shutter the controversial prison by January.
The government team tasked with assessing the detainee cases has struggled to persuade other countries to take some of the captives, with only a trickle of prisoners transferred since Obama's inauguration in January.
Obama's Republican foes, and some of his Democratic allies in Congress, have opposed bringing detainees to US soil for trial or detention -- even if they were held alongside serial murderers and rapists in high-security federal prisons.
Administration officials have already acknowledged that meeting the closing deadline will be complicated.
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