Guantánamo's untouchables: What to do with Uighurs
The US moves toward sending the Chinese Muslims to Palau, a remote Pacific island. But some experts say that would be a mistake.
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The Uighur ethnic group is native to western China. US human rights reports say Uighurs are distrusted as potential political separatists and are subject to abusive treatment by Chinese authorities. The heated political situation in their home region makes resettlement in China impossible. In addition, Chinese diplomatic influence makes resettlement to a third country potentially problematic.Skip to next paragraph
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Palau was considered a good fit for resettlement in part because it recognizes the government of Taiwan and does not have diplomatic relations with China.
In October, a federal judge in Washington ordered the government to release the 17 Uighurs and bring them to the US pending their resettlement. That decision was reversed in February by a federal appeals court panel.
Lawyers for the Uighurs have filed briefs urging the Supreme Court to hear their case. The justices are set to consider whether to accept the appeal at their private conference on June 25.
Washington lawyer George Clarke represents two of the Uighurs. He says they were cleared for resettlement six years ago and have been waiting for their release ever since. Mr. Clarke says he watched with dismay in recent weeks as the Uighurs' possible resettlement in the US became a political football with some politicians attempting to win public support by frightening the American public.
"The American people have nothing to fear from these men," Clarke says. "There is no one who has a stronger actual innocence claim that I know of."
Since a federal judge ordered their release in October, the Uighurs have been housed in a special camp at Guantánamo with more privileges than other detainees. But Clarke says they are still imprisoned.
Clarke said he had "no comment" on the Palau resettlement option. But he added: "I can tell you my two clients are open to many different possible alternatives."
One of those alternatives involves resettling in the US with the help of Uighur-American groups and families who have pledged to help the men find housing and jobs. But that option appears to have been rejected by President Obama.
Mr. Mantri of Amnesty International acknowledges the difficulty faced by the Obama administration in closing Guantánamo. "There are plenty of people at Guantánamo who present a real threat and challenge," he says. "But it would be tragic to perpetuate an injustice simply because of a domestic political row [over the Uighurs] that is largely manufactured."