2 Gitmo Detainees To Resettle in Ireland

Ireland has agreed to accept two inmates from the Guantanamo prison camp in Cuba within the next two months, Irish Justice Minister Dermot Ahern announced Wednesday.

Ahern said the two men belong to a group of about 50 prisoners who are "no longer regarded as posing a threat to security but who cannot return to their own countries." The United States has appealed to European Union countries to give most or all of those men sanctuary, but until now only France has stepped forward to accept a specific detainee.

The justice minister declined to identify either detainee. Other government officials and the human rights group Amnesty International confirmed that both come from Uzbekistan and were seized in neighboring Afghanistan in bitterly disputed circumstances in 2001.

Ahern made his accouncement as he met newly appointed U.S. Ambassador Dan Rooney. Last week Irish officials visited Washington and Guantanamo to negotiate terms of the Uzbeks' transfer.

In January after taking office, U.S. President Barack Obama announced his intention to close the 7-year-old military prison. He specifically appealed to European countries such as Ireland — long critical of the Guantanamo prison and demanding its closure — to shelter inmates who have been cleared as terrorist suspects but would face prison, torture or execution if deported to their homelands.

Ireland is the second EU member to reach agreement with the Obama administration on the issue. France received one Algerian ex-inmate in May in a gesture timed to an Obama visit.

Several other European governments say they are willing in principle to take ex-Guantanamo inmates eventually. But they stress that any delays are down to the Obama administration, which has struggled to forge a plan to close Guantanamo that resolves legal and political obstacles — particularly grassroots opposition to permitting any resettlements on American soil.

Portugal, which was the first nation to call for a coordinated EU role in helping to close Guantanamo, said last month it still plans to take two or three prisoners, but has no agreement yet with the U.S.

The only group of Guantanamo inmates to receive enthusiastic third-country offers for resettlement are Chinese Muslim separatists called Uighurs.

Albania took five Uighurs in 2006, Bermuda took four more in June, and the tiny Pacific island of Palau has offered to take the 13 remaining in Guantanamo. The U.S. has yet to accept that offer.

Most of the approximately 230 men still locked up in Guantanamo are from Yemen, which the United States says lacks reliable prisons and terror "rehabilitation" programs. Negotiations are continuing to transfer most or all of the Yemenis to neighboring Saudi Arabia instead.

Ahern said the two Uzbeks coming to Ireland would receive permanent residency rights and would not be treated as refugees, a legal status that would allow them to work and move freely.

One of the Uzbeks, 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 pregnant wife and infant son 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 but kept in custody because U.S. authorities accepted that Uzbek authorities would likely torture any Guantanamo inmates sent back home. He has never met his youngest son, who was born after his disappearance.

Jabbarov's U.S. lawyer, Michael Mone, has compared his client to the comic film and TV character Borat in his naivete about the world. He says Jabbarov has been hoping to resettle in Ireland, in part, because it is a land with many sheep, and he was a shepherd back home in Uzbekistan.