Oct 08, 2008

East Turkestan: Guantanamo Uyghurs Freed

Active Image17 Uyghur Muslims have been released following a unprecedented court case in the US.
Below is an article published by the Philadelphia Inquirer:

A federal judge ordered yesterday [7 October 2008] that 17 [Uyghur Muslims] held at the Guantanamo Bay military prison be released into the United States by Friday [10 October 2008], agreeing with the detainees' lawyers that the Constitution barred holding the men indefinitely without cause.
It was the first time a U.S. court had ordered the release of a Guantanamo detainee, and the first time a foreign national held at the base in Cuba had been ordered brought to the United States.
U.S. District Judge Ricardo Urbina issued the landmark ruling in the case of a small band of captives, known as Uighurs, who have been held at Guantanamo nearly seven years and are no longer considered enemy combatants by the U.S. government.
At a hearing packed with Uighurs who live in the Washington area, Urbina rejected government arguments that he had no authority to order the release of the men. He said he had such authority because the detainees were being held indefinitely and it was the only remedy available. He cited a June [2008] decision by an appeals court that found evidence against the Uighurs to be unreliable.
Urbina said he had ordered the release "because the Constitution prohibits indefinite detention without cause."
Justice Department spokesman Brian Roehrkasse said the government planned to ask a federal appeals court to step in while attorneys filed an appeal of yesterday's ruling. White House press secretary Dana Perino called the decision "contrary to our laws, including federal immigration statutes passed by Congress."
Urbina scheduled a hearing for Friday [10 October 2008], with the Uighurs present, to take testimony on how they might be monitored in the Washington area. He said the Uighurs would be in the custody of 17 Uighur families in the Washington area.
Members of the area's Uighur community reacted to the decision with jubilation. "We won!" one attendee exclaimed after the hearing, setting off a loud cheer.
Unlike other captives, the men cannot be sent to their home country because China considers them terrorists and might torture them. U.S. authorities released five Uighur detainees to Albania in 2006, but no other country wants to risk offending China by accepting the remaining captives.
The Uighurs' attorneys argued that the men posed no security threat to the United States, and they have suggested that authorities could supervise them much as they monitor criminal defendants released pending trial. Later, the government could find the Uighurs another home, the lawyers have said.
Over the years, more than 500 detainees have left Guantanamo and an unknown number ultimately were set free. Only one, a Saudi, Yaser Esam Hamdi, was moved from Guantanamo to the United States after authorities determined he held U.S. citizenship. He eventually was deported to Saudi Arabia and relinquished his citizenship.
Scores of captives are challenging their detentions after a Supreme Court ruling in June [2008] gave them the right to have their cases reviewed by federal judges under the legal doctrine of habeas corpus.
U.S. District Judge Richard Leon has been conducting closed-door hearings in the cases of more than 20 of those detainees and intends to hold habeas hearings beginning later this month [October 2008].
In those cases, judges must weigh government evidence to decide whether the detainees are being held fairly.
In this case, Urbina had only two options - leave the Uighurs at Guantanamo or order them released into the United States.
Justice Department lawyers had argued that only the president had the authority to allow the men into the country. They also said the judge was barred from ordering the entry of detainees if they had ties to terrorist groups.
The Uighurs are natives of northwestern China who have been demanding an independent homeland. Chinese authorities consider them separatists.
In 2001, most of the Uighurs now at Guantanamo were living in camps in Afghanistan until U.S. air strikes drove them into neighboring Pakistan. They were captured there and turned over to U.S. authorities.