East Turkestan: Gitmo Inmates Discuss Release with Officials
Below is an article written by Carol Rosenberg and published by the Miami Herald:
Obama panel interviews Muslims from China about leaving Guantánamo
In a prison camps first, the Obama administration Tuesday [31 March 2009] dispatched members of a detainee review team here to speak directly with 17 captives from China who were swept up in the war on terror and ultimately cleared of being enemies of America.
The six-member delegation included lawyers from the Justice, State and Homeland Security departments, according to U.S. military sources, who spoke on condition of anonymity because only the Justice Department was allowed to officially disclose the mission.
They were to spend a minimum of one hour interviewing each of the Uighur captives, pronounced wee-gurs, who are part of China's Muslim minority and who risk religious persecution were they returned to their homeland.
Each was captured in Afghanistan in late 2001 and handed over to U.S. forces, who interrogated them to learn about al Qaeda's paramilitary training camp structure.
ustice Department spokesman Dean Boyd declined comment while the trip was ongoing. It was expected to last much of the week.
The tale of the Guantánamo captives from a largely unfamiliar ethnic group captured the hearts of U.S. civil liberties lawyers, who for years filed unlawful detention lawsuits on their behalf in federal courts, called habeas corpus petitions.
None were commenting on this week's meetings, citing delicate negotiations.
The 1,000 or so strong American Uighur community, which mostly lives in the Washington, D.C., area, has offered to help resettle them on U.S. soil, with the help of the Lutheran Immigration and Refugee Service. Christian, Muslim and Jewish religious leaders in Tallahassee, Fla., which has not a single known Uighur speaker, have likewise offered jobs, housing and resettlement services for three of the men.
But the Bush administration had steadfastly refused efforts to resettle them in the United States.
In 2006 it sent five other Uighurs from Guantánamo to Tirana, Albania, one of whom has since sought political asylum in Sweden. No nation has so far agreed to offer sanctuary for the last 17 and the United States has agreed not to return them to China, which casts them as terrorists tied to an insurgency seeking independence from the communist regime.
U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder raised the prospect of breaking the U.S. taboo when he told reporters March 18  that ''the possibility exists'' that some of the men could be released into the United States.
U.S. military sources said the visit was being held in a razor-wire-ringed compound called Camp Iguana. It marked the first time that Obama administration officials with a newly created review team met directly with the detainees they have been tasked to relocate elsewhere.
Camp Iguana, on a bluff overlooking the sea, currently serves as a segregated site for Guantánamo detainees whom federal judges have ordered released under years-old habeas corpus petitions that twice reached the U.S. Supreme Court after the Bush administration's refusal to acknowledge federal court jurisdiction here.
While locked inside the smallest of Guantánamo's prison camp compounds, detainees held there have more privileges than other captives here -- more books, more movies, group meals and prayer in a plywood hut fixed up as a mosque.
On Tuesday [31 March 2009], a total of 20 of the 240 or so Guantánamo detainees were held there -- the 17 Chinese citizens, two Algerians and a young man from Chad whose lawyer said he was captured as a teen.
Navy Adm. Patrick Walsh, deputy chief of naval operations, questioned some detainees in February about prison camps conditions -- on assignment from Defense Secretary Robert Gates to validate the detention center's compliance with the Geneva Conventions.
Boyd of the Justice Department would not say whether the team had the authority to make decisions or was providing recommendations to a Cabinet-level panel President Barack Obama established in an executive order on Jan. 22 .
The president tasked Holder, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, Gates and others to review all Guantánamo detainee case files -- and find new sites for the war-on-terror captives, either lockups and trials on U.S. soil or resettlement or transfer elsewhere by Jan. 22, 2010.
Boyd also wouldn't say whether the team was speaking only to the Uighurs and whether a decision on where to move the men was imminent.