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Hagel to make decisions on Guantanamo detainees 'fairly soon'

By David Brunnstrom

ANCHORAGE Alaska (Reuters) - - Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel said on Wednesday he will make decisions fairly soon about detainees at Guantanamo Bay detention center who Uruguay has offered to accept.

U.S. President Barack Obama's administration wants to close the center in Cuba used to imprison people captured after the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks on the United States and has been talking to several countries about relocating inmates.

Guantanamo, criticized by human rights groups, has prisoners that have been held for a decade or longer without being charged or given a trial. Opened by President George W. Bush in 2002 to hold suspects rounded up overseas, Guantanamo became a symbol of the excesses of his "war on terror."

Hagel said he was taking his time in reaching a decision about six detainees Obama had discussed with Uruguayan President Jose Mujica, as well as other detainees, in order to be sure that releasing them was the responsible thing to do.

"I’ll be making some decisions on those specific individuals here fairly soon," he told reporters en route to Alaska before embarking on a tour of Asia and Europe.

Hagel said the U.S. Congress had assigned him the responsibility of notifying it of a decision to release detainees.

"My name goes on that document. That’s a big responsibility," he said.

"I have a system that I have developed, put in place, to look at every element, first of all complying with the law, risks, mitigation of risk. Does it hit the thresholds of the legalities required?" he said.

"Can I ensure compliance with all those requirements? There is a risk in everything ... I suspect I will never get a 100-percent deal."

Uruguay said in March that at Washington's request it would take some inmates from Guantanamo Bay. Mujica said then that Uruguay had asked the United States to free Cuban prisoners as a gesture in return.

He was most likely referring to three Cuban intelligence agents in jail in the United States. The three, plus two others who have since been released, were convicted in 2001 of spying and are considered heroes in Cuba.

Mujica said in March the arrival of the Guantanamo detainees was far from finalized but that they would be free men in Uruguay.

Uruguayan media reported at the time that Uruguay had accepted a U.S. proposal to take five detainees for two years. It said they were likely to be four Syrians and a Pakistani.

Obama promised to close Guantanamo soon after he took office in 2008, but that plan has been thwarted by difficulties in moving the detainees either to the U.S. or to their home countries.

(Reporting by David Brunnstrom. Editing by Jane Merriman)

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