Ex-Gitmo Detainees In Uruguay Protest At U.S. Embassy : Parallels The men, resettled there after years in detention, say they aren't getting enough assistance. Camped outside the U.S. Embassy, they are seeking housing and other help reintegrating into society.
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Ex-Gitmo Detainees In Uruguay Protest At U.S. Embassy

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Ex-Gitmo Detainees In Uruguay Protest At U.S. Embassy

Ex-Gitmo Detainees In Uruguay Protest At U.S. Embassy

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MELISSA BLOCK, HOST:

At the end of last year, six Guantanamo Bay detainees were freed, all of them sent to the tiny South American nation of Uruguay. At first, they were grateful, and now that gratitude has turned to frustration. Four of the men are camping outside the U.S. Embassy there, protesting what they say is inadequate housing, training and care. They're calling on the U.S. to help pay. NPR's Lourdes Garcia-Navarro reports from Uruguay's capital.

LOURDES GARCIA-NAVARRO, BYLINE: Three small tents are pitched up on the smooth, green lawn in front of the U.S. Embassy here. Four of the ex-Guantanamo prisoners have been sleeping rough since Friday to call attention to their plight.

ABDELHADI OMAR FARAJ: (Foreign language spoken).

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Among them is Abdelhadi Omar Faraj. His picture from his Guantanamo days shows him with a long beard and hair. Now both are cut short. Speaking in Arabic through an interpreter, he says he spent a third of his life in Guantanamo.

FARAJ: (Through interpreter) Now we move to another kind of prison, which is - nothing has changed. We are still under the same pressure. The mental state has not changed. I don't feel settled down. This is essential for me to be able to move on.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: He's Syrian, and according to his file, he was captured in Pakistan when he says he was 20. The U.S. accused him of belonging to a Syrian cell that fought with Osama Bin Laden in Afghanistan. In 2009, he was deemed ready for release, but he wasn't freed for another five years. Initially, there was a lot of fanfare in Uruguay. Then-President Jose Mujica - himself a former prisoner - made a big deal of taking the six ​men in, on what he said were humanitarian grounds. Faraj actually wrote an open letter to the Uruguayan people when he got here. It said if not for Uruguay, I would remain even now in that black hole in Cuba. I'm at a loss for words to express my gratitude. But that gratitude has turned to disillusion.

FARAJ: (Through interpreter) We came here, and they ask us to start working right away. It's not possible to become a normal person in such a short time. We need a proper rehab program that allows us to become - to integrate into society, and then, step by step, we can start working and moving on with our lives.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: The issue is who should pay for that. Up until now, the funding came partially from a local union, which provided housing and other help. Now they're being offered a $500 monthly stipend by the U.N. if they sign a formal agreement, but the men say it's not enough. They're in a country where they don't speak the language, understand the culture; they say they've spent over a decade in prison. Many have health problems. They say no one thought their situation through.

FARAJ: (Through interpreter) The United States owes us. We're not asking for them to make up for all the 13 years we spent in Guantanamo. We're just asking them for a minimum.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Both the current and former presidents of Uruguay agree with the men and have said the U.S. should bear the costs.

CHRISTIAN MIRZA: (Foreign language spoken).

GARCIA-NAVARRO: In an interview with NPR, the Uruguayan mediator handling the case, Christian Mirza, says the men are in a difficult situation. Mirza says part of the problem has been that the ex-Guantanamo prisoners are a special case, and the government here is still learning how to deal with them. He says the government is trying to live up to its obligations, but he also says the responsibility first and last lies with the United States. The U.S. has declined to say what their arrangement was with Uruguay. But according to U.S. officials, the U.S. doesn't give any direct compensation to former detainees, whom they claim were lawfully detained. In front of the American Embassy, it's dusk and the men face Mecca as they kneel down to pray. The vast waters of the River Plate stretch behind them, and the rain falls softly. After they finish, they get up and go back into their tents to wait. Lourdes Garcia-Navarro, NPR News, Montevideo.

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