The little known Chinese ethnic minority has had several detainees in Guantanamo Bay since 9/11.
This week a judge ruled that the last 3 were being held unlawfully.
This set off a series of tense negotiations because no nation wanted to receive them and if they were sent to China they would be tortured.
This has been a fascinating game of international diplomacy. The detainees will now head to Slovakia.
The United States has transferred three Uighur Muslim detainees to Slovakia from the military prison at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, U.S. officials said Tuesday. They were the last members of the ethnic minority from China to be held at the military prison.
The trio had languished at Guantanamo for more than a decade since their capture in Pakistan after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks — despite prior military assessments that they had no ties to al-Qaeda or the Taliban.
In 2008, a federal judge ruled that the Uighurs were being held unlawfully and ordered their release. Their transfer was delayed by legal wrangling and failed attempts to find a country willing to accept them.
The Pentagon described the transfer as a “significant milestone.” Eight other prisoners have been moved from the controversial detention facility since August, including two Saudis and two Algerians who returned to their countries in December. An additional 155 detainees remain.
President Obama last week reaffirmed his commitment to shutter the prison at Guantanamo, despite ongoing resistance from Republican lawmakers.
“The continued operation of the facility weakens our national security by draining resources, damaging our relationships with key allies and partners and emboldening violent extremists,” Obama said.
The detainees whose release was announced Tuesday were identified as Yusef Abbas, Saidullah Khalik and Hajiakbar Abdul Ghuper. They agreed to resettle in Slovakia, officials said.
Returning the detainees to China was not an option for the United States because of fears that they might be treated harshly. A senior U.S. military official said the Chinese have put tremendous pressure on countries in an effort to stop them from taking any of the Uighurs.
The official said that a deal was in place several weeks ago for the final three to go to Costa Rica, but that the Chinese learned about the secret discussions and scuttled any possible arrangement. The United States had been talking to Slovakia, a member of NATO, for a year about taking some of the Uighurs, said the official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to discuss diplomatic negotiations.
The Chinese Embassy in Washington did not immediately respond to an e-mail seeking comment.