Six prisoners from Guantanamo Bay have been transferred to Uruguay, the US government said today, announcing a resettlement deal that had been delayed for months by security concerns in the Pentagon and political considerations in the South American country. The six are the first prisoners transferred to South America from the US base in Cuba, part of a flurry of recent releases amid a renewed push by President Obama to close the prison. The release brings the total number of prisoners at Guantanamo to 136—the lowest number since the prison opened in January 2002. Uruguayan President Jose Mujica agreed to accept the men—four Syrians, a Tunisian, and a Palestinian—as a humanitarian gesture and said they would be given help getting established in a country with a small Muslim population.
All six were detained as suspected militants with ties to al-Qaeda in 2002 but were never charged. They have been cleared for release since at least 2010 but languished as the US struggled to find countries willing to accept them. Mujica had agreed to take the men in January. Obama administration officials have been frustrated that the transfer took so long and blame outgoing Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel for not approving the move sooner. They said the deal sat for months on Hagel's desk, awaiting his signature as required by law. The US has released 19 prisoners so far this year. Officials say several more are expected by the end of the year. (Read more Guantanamo Bay stories.)