Guantanamo ex-inmates demand housing, payment from US

MONTEVIDEO (AFP) - Four former Guantanamo inmates living free in Uruguay since December are demanding financial compensation and housing from the US government for their nearly 13 years in captivity.

Syrian citizens Ali Husein Shaaban, 33, Abd al-Hadi Faraj, 39 or 40, Ahmed Adnan Ahjam, 37, and Abdul Bin Mohammed Bin Abess Ourgy of Tunisia, 49, have been protesting in front of the US Embassy in Montevideo since late Friday.

They stressed that they hold the United States, not host country Uruguay, responsible for their current predicament, accusing Washington of neglecting them after more than a decade spent at the US military prison.

"The reason we decided to protest in front of the US embassy is that we wanted from them and from all the world to hear our voices," the group wrote in an English statement published online at https://exguantanamorefugeesinuruguay.wordpress.com.

"It's something we didn't want nor called for but unfortunately we were pushed to it. We tried every possible and official way, we talked to many representatives of the government but our conditions didn't change."

In thanking President Jose Mujica and the Uruguayan people for their hospitality, the men said the United States "can't just throw the mistakes on others; they should help us with houses and financial support".

Former Guantanamo inmates (left to right): Ahmed Adnan Ahjam, Abd al Hadi Omar Mahmoud Faraj, Ali Husein Shaaban and Abdul Bin Muhammad Abbas Ouerghi pose in front of the US Embassy in Montevideo on Sunday. -- PHOTO: AFP

The men have spent two nights sleeping in the garden outside the US Embassy, and were provided food and blankets by locals.

The former prisoners said they want to stay in Uruguay and are willing to work there, but warn that the process of adaptation takes time.

The other two former prisoners resettled in Uruguay are Syrian national Jihad Diyab, 43, and Mohammed Tahamatan, 35, a Palestinian. They did not join the protest.

On Friday, the US embassy issued a statement indicating that any request must be made through the "appropriate channels" and filed during the mission's operating hours.

Uruguay's then president Jose Mujica announced last year that the country would take in the inmates on "humanitarian grounds," in a bid to help his US counterpart Barack Obama fulfill his long-delayed promise to close the prison set up in the wake of the 9/11 attacks.

The men were among the first detainees sent to Guantanamo in 2002.

Detained as part of the US "war on terror" for alleged links to Al-Qaeda, they were never charged or tried.

They had been cleared for release, but the US ruled they could not be sent to their home countries for security reasons.

Uruguay is the first South American country to receive former Guantanamo inmates.