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Terrorism & Security

US federal court orders Chinese Muslims in Guantánamo released

The Bush administration hopes to block the judge's order to free the 17 Uighurs, who were detained in Pakistan almost seven years ago.

By / October 8, 2008

In a rebuke to the Bush administration's policy on terrorist detainees, a US federal court has ordered the release of 17 Chinese Muslims held for several years without trial in Guantánamo Bay, Cuba. District Judge Ricardo Urbina said Tuesday that the men must appear in court on Friday and that they would subsequently be resettled in the United States. The Justice Department said it would seek an emergency stay on the ruling.

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The detainees are all members of the Uighur (pronounced WEE-gur) minority in western China and were arrested after the US invasion of Afghanistan. They were cleared by the US military for release in 2004, but weren't sent back to China due to fears of persecution, and no other country has agreed to accept them.

Lawyers for the men expressed relief and said it was a landmark ruling as it involved the release of Guantánamo detainees in the US, Reuters reports. The 17 detainees had fled China and had been living in a camp in Afghanistan, then fled into Pakistan after the US bombing campaign began in October 2001.

In 2006, five other Chinese Muslims were sent to Albania to seek asylum. China has tried to suppress an alleged Uighur separatist movement that it blames for violent attacks on security personnel in its far west. That has put a stop to US efforts to repatriate Uighurs held in Guantánamo, a US military facility.

The New York Times reports that the ruling was the first of its kind in nearly seven years of legal battles over the administration's broad definition of its wartime powers. Federal courts and the Supreme Court have previously examined the legality of detention policies at Guantánamo. Tuesday's hearing was in response to a habeas corpus lawsuit filed on behalf of the 17 men.

"I think the moment has arrived for the court to shine the light of constitutionality on the reasons for detention," Judge Urbina said.
Saying the men had never fought the United States and were not a security threat, he tersely rejected Bush administration claims that he lacked the power to order the men set free in the United States and government requests that he stay his order to permit an immediate appeal....
Judge Urbina, an appointee of President Bill Clinton, underscored the significance of his ruling with repeated references to the constitutional separation of powers and the judiciary's role.
He rejected Justice Department arguments as assertions of executive power to detain people indefinitely without court review. He said that "is not in keeping with our system of government."

The White House said it was "deeply concerned" by the ruling, reports Bloomberg. It has insisted that it has the right to hold "enemy combatants" for the duration of the "war on terror."


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