DUBLIN — Ireland has agreed to accept two inmates from the Guantanamo prison camp in Cuba, Irish Foreign Minister Dermot Ahern announced Wednesday.
Ahern said the two men belong to a group of about 50 inmates who are “no longer regarded as posing a threat to security but who cannot return to their own countries.” He declined to identify them, but other officials confirmed that both are from Uzbekistan and seized in neighboring Afghanistan in bitterly disputed circumstances.
Ahern’s announcement came as he met newly appointed U.S. Ambassador Dan Rooney following a visit last week by Irish officials to Washington and Guantanamo.
Six months ago, President Barack Obama announced his intention to close the 8-year-old military prison and asked European countries to help find new homes for released inmates.
Several European countries have committed in principle to taking Guantanamo inmates but only France has said it will accept a specific detainee. Other European governments stress that they shouldn’t be expected to do much until the Obama administration delivers a plan to close Guantanamo that can resolve an array of legal and political obstacles at home, particularly grassroots opposition to permitting any resettlements on American soil.
Ahern said the men’s identities, travel details and locations of new residences would be kept secret. He said they would receive permanent residency rights and would not be treated as refugees, a legal status that would allow them to work and move freely.
Two government officials with knowledge of the case – speaking on condition of anonymity because they were breaching the government’s official position – said both men are Uzbek nationals. One, 31-year-old Oybek Jabbarov, has been the focus of several months’ campaigning by Irish human rights groups seeking to bring him to Ireland.
Jabbarov’s case is widely cited as an example of how innocent people were branded terrorists by Afghan militiamen following the invasion of Afghanistan in 2001, when U.S. forces were offering lucrative cash bounties for the handover of alleged Taliban fighters.
Jabbarov says he, his wife and child were living as refugees near the Afghan-Uzbek border in October 2001 when he accepted a lift in a car from soldiers of the National Alliance, a military faction long at war with the Taliban. He says the soldiers kidnapped him and delivered him to U.S. troops to collect an easy bounty.
He was transferred to Guantanamo in 2002 and cleared for release in February 2007. His U.S. lawyer, Michael Mone, has compared his client to the comic film and TV character Borat and says Jabbarov has been hoping to resettle in Ireland because it is a land with many sheep, and he was a shepherd back home in Uzbekistan.
On the Net:
U.S. congressional testimony on Jabbarov, http://www.internationalrelations.house.gov/110/mon050608.htm