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Guantanamo Bay detainees who were 'never' terrorism suspects get new lives in Slovakia

Paul J. Richards / AFP - Getty Images, file

A detainee wears restraints as he reads during a class at Guantanamo Bay in March 2010.

By Jim Miklaszewski and Alexander Smith, NBC News

Three Guantanamo Bay detainees have been sent to Slovakia where they are "voluntarily resettling," officials said Tuesday.

Yusef Abbas, 33, Saidullah Khalik, 37, and Hajiakbar Abdul Ghuper, 39, are the final ethnic Uighur Chinese nationals to be transferred out of the facility in Cuba.

The Slovakian government said the men it accepted had "never been suspected nor accused of terrorism," the BBC reported. The country, which is a member of the European Union and NATO, also took in three Guantanamo inmates in 2010.

"The United States is grateful to the government of Slovakia for this humanitarian gesture and its willingness to support U.S. efforts to close the Guantanamo Bay detention facility," the Defense Department said in a statement. "The United States coordinated with the government of Slovakia to ensure the transfer took place in accordance with appropriate security and humane treatment measures."

Abbas and Khalik were sent to Guantanamo after being captured in Pakistan in 2001 alongside al Qaeda "members," according Defense Department documents published by The New York Times.

Uighurs are Muslim inhabitants of the Xinjiang region in northwestern China. China has previously blamed violence in Xinjiang on Islamist militants plotting holy war.

John Moore / Getty Images

President Obama's one-year deadline to close the facility has long passed as shutting it down has proven complicated and controversial.

The Defense Department told a court in 2008 that it would "serve no useful purpose" to try to prove that 17 Uighurs who were being held in Guantanamo in 2008 were enemy combatants.

In Oct. 2008, a federal judge ordered the release of the men, but the decision was stayed  by a federal appeals court after the government intervened. They had been in legal limbo since.

Emi MacLean, staff attorney at the Center for Constitutional Rights, in 2009 called for the end of the detention of the 17 Uighurs. She said: "The U.S. government has acknowledged that these 17 men are wrongly imprisoned and have nowhere safe to go. Seven years is too long for such a grand mistake to go without a remedy."

The tiny Pacific nation of Palau offered to resettle the 17 men in 2009. At least six accepted but some others refused. Four other Uighurs from Guantanamo were also relocated to Bermuda in 2009.

The transfer leaves 155 detainees still in custody at Guantanamo Bay.

Reuters contributed to this report.


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