This article covers the recent release of the last three Chinese ethnic Uighur prisoners from Guantanamo Bay. It also explains why Guantanamo Bay is still open even though President Obama ordered the facility to be closed when he took office. In many cases the detainees have been approved for release, but the U.S. government has not been able to find a safe place to transfer them.

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There’s good news for those of you who are pacifists out there — the U.S. government has taken another step towards permanently closing the controversial Guantanamo Bay detention center. Although President Obama officially signed the order to close Guantanamo Bay on his first day of office in 2009, it wasn’t as if the prison could be evacuated overnight. The fact still remained that some detainees were criminals, and often it proved difficult to find another place to send them. In most cases the U.S. government had to work with other countries to relocate the detainees, and diplomacy can often be a dicey business.

Despite the difficulties of permanently closing the detention center, many pacifists both in America and around the world are outraged that Guantanamo still exists. After all, it has been almost five years since President Obama first signed the order to close the facility. In recent years, the president has ramped up his efforts to close Guantanamo Bay and significant progress has been made. In the past year, nine Guantanamo detainees have been released from the facility. Here are some of the latest developments concerning the detention center.

Release of the Last Three Ethnic Uighurs

On Tuesday, December 31, the U.S. military announced that it had transferred the last three of the 22 Chinese ethnic Uighurs to Slovakia. Some may be surprised that the Chinese detainees were held at Guantanamo for so long. After all, the U.S. has not been at war with China, has it? The Uighurs were brought to Guantanamo Bay in 2001 after being captured during the U.S. invasion of Afghanistan. From the beginning, people argued that they didn’t belong there and had nothing to do with the war on terror.

Once they were in U.S. custody, though, the release of the Chinese prisoners proved to be difficult. The Uighurs who were captured in Afghanistan were part of a separatist group and had likely received special weapons training. The Chinese government put diplomatic pressure on countries around the world not to take in the prisoners. Thus, the release of the Uighurs has been long in coming. The conditions are not good for the prisoners, the cleanliness of the facility, the weather and lack of protection from mosquitoes and other bugs makes it unbearable for inmates.

A Gradual Effort

The U.S. government began transferring the Chinese detainees as early as 2006 under the Bush administration. At this time 5 of the prisoners were taken to Albania. In an attempt to get the Uighurs out of Guantanamo, a federal court ordered that the remaining 17 prisoners be brought to the United States. Unfortunately, that ruling was overturned in 2009. Later that year, two of the men were transferred to a center in Virginia in hopes that other centers would follow their lead and take in the rest. However, congressional backlash made that goal impossible to realize. Since 2009, the remaining Uighur detainees have been transferred to various countries in small groups.

The Remaining Prisoners

Right now, 155 prisoners remain at Guantanamo Bay. Given all they’ve been through and the years they’ve been at the facility, these detainees probably deserve complimentary riches in addition to their release. However, the U.S. government can’t release them to places where they will be unsafe, and finding a place to send them has proven difficult. Half of the detainees still at Guantanamo have been approved for release, but security conditions in their receiving countries have been sub-par. Still, the fact that the last Uighur detainees have finally been released bodes well for their future.

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Courtney Gordner
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