East Turkestan: Appeal For Release
Seventeen Chinese Uyghurs being held at the U.S. naval base in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, asked to be released immediately now that President Barack Obama has ordered the prison camp there closed within a year.
Lawyers for the Uyghurs wrote the Justice and Defense Departments seeking the immediate release of their clients to the U.S., a step ordered in October by a federal judge. The Bush administration appealed that decision, while saying it no longer considers the men to be enemy combatants.
“The issue for the Obama administration is not whether the Uighurs should be released but rather where they should be released,” the lawyers said in their Jan. 23  letter. “We urge the government to release the Uighurs immediately to the only place they can be released -- the United States.”
China has requested the return of the Uyghur detainees. The U.S. has appealed to other countries to accept them and other detainees because of fears they might be abused in their homelands. Obama signed an executive order Jan. 22  directing his administration to begin taking steps to close the Guantanamo prison, which holds 245 detainees.
“By accepting the Uyghurs, we would encourage other countries to accept the significant number of Guantanamo detainees who are cleared for release but who cannot be” sent back to their own countries, the lawyers wrote in their letter yesterday.
The Uyghur detainees are from a predominantly Muslim far- western region of China called Xinjiang. They were living in a self-contained camp in Afghanistan and fled when the U.S.-led coalition’s bombing campaign to oust the Taliban regime began in October 2001. They were captured and turned over to Pakistani authorities, who handed them to the U.S.
The men’s lawyers say they were “sold to U.S. forces by bounty hunters.” The men are being held in a reduced-security area separate from other prisoners at Guantanamo.
U.S. District Judge Ricardo Urbina ruled in October  that the Bush administration must release the Uyghurs because it no longer considers them to be enemy combatants. He ordered the government to bring the men to his Washington courtroom within 72 hours so they could be placed in the custody of local Uyighur families who have offered to take them.
The government appealed the ruling, saying freeing them “threatens serious harm” to the U.S. because they have had military-weapons training.
Five other Uyghur detainees were given political asylum in 2006 by Albania. U.S. diplomats have tried to find other countries to take the remainder.
The combined case is In Re: Guantanamo Bay Detainee Litigation, 08-442, U.S. District Court, District of Columbia.