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.
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In June, the Supreme Court ruled that inmates at Guantánamo can seek release in federal court. That ruling applies to an estimated 225 prisoners still held at the facility, down from more than 770 at its peak.Skip to next paragraph
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"Today's ruling presents serious national security and separation of powers concerns and raises unprecedented legal issues," Justice Department spokesman Brian Roehrkasse said in a statement. "The government does not believe that it is appropriate to have these foreign nationals removed from government custody and released into the United States."
Human rights groups applauded Tuesday's ruling, reports Inter Press Services. But they say much depends on the government's response to the proposed release of the detainees, as past rulings by federal courts have been ignored by the Bush administration. Rights groups say the government should charge and try detainees or release them.
The court scheduled a hearing next week with exiled Uighurs who have offered rooms for the detainees, The Washington Post reports. Some are likely to be released into the care of families in and around the capital, where sizable communities have settled since the mid-1990s after the collapse of the Soviet Union and increased political tensions in western China. Uighur exiles in Washington are often college educated and keep a keen eye on political developments at home.
According to one of the detainees' attorneys, the presence of a local community willing to receive the detainees was key in the judge's decision that they be released on U.S. soil.
"The local Uighur presence is critical," said Susan Baker Manning, an attorney for the detainees. "These men are halfway around the world from their home and their families. They've been held in grinding isolation, many of them in solitary confinement for about a year and half. They are going to need some help."
The Los Angeles Times reports that rights lawyers describe the Uighurs as victims of wrongful imprisonment, as they fled to Afghanistan to escape political repression in China. When they fled to Pakistan, locals turned them over to US troops in return for $5,000 bounties.
The U.S. military alleged that the Uighurs had received military training, and they were suspected of ties to the East Turkistan Islamic Movement, which the State Department had designated a terrorist group.
But the Uighurs strongly denied any ties to the Taliban, Al Qaeda or other enemies of the United States; their only enemy, they said, was the government of China. They said they had initially welcomed being in U.S. custody, hoping they would be safe and treated humanely.
The Times of London cites a letter written by one of the detainees, Abdulghappar Turkistani, that a US lawyer released earlier this year. He wrote that the men, who had been ruled in 2004 as no longer posing a threat to the US, were held in windowless cells for up to 22 hours a day.
He said: "We fail to know why we are still in jail here. Being forbidden from the natural sunlight, natural air, being surrounded with a metal box all around is not suitable for a human being."