Some Chinese Guantanamo Detainees Likely to Be Released in U.S.
Justin Blum Justin Blum Wed Jun 3, 1:46 pm ET
June 3 (Bloomberg) -- Some of the 17 Chinese Uighur Muslims being held at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, will likely be released in the U.S. in an effort to convince other countries to accept prisoners from the detention facility, according to current and former American officials.
The fate of the Chinese nationals, who were captured after the Sept. 11 attacks, has been a quandary for U.S. officials. While the Bush administration cleared the Uighurs for release or transfer between 2003 and 2008, the government hasnât been able to find a country willing to accept them.
Their release would give fresh fuel to lawmakers who have objected to the possibility raised by the Obama administration of sending terror suspects housed at Guantanamo to U.S. prisons. President Barack Obama promised to close the detention facility by January and needs to relocate the prisoners. The State Department has had trouble persuading other countries to accept the roughly 240 detainees, including the Uighurs, whose lawyers say they would be persecuted if returned to China.
âItâs a virtual certainty that the Obama administration will announce at some point that some small number of Uighurs will be settled in the United States,â said John B. Bellinger III, a State Department legal adviser during the Bush administration who is now a partner at the law firm Arnold & Porter LLP in Washington. âItâs going to be impossible to get European counties to agree to resettle any detainees unless we take some.â
There were disputes among Bush administration officials about whether the Uighurs posed a danger, Bellinger said in an interview. He said he advocated releasing some in the U.S.
In October, a judge ordered the Uighurs set free in the U.S., and the Bush administration appealed. The Obama administration hasnĂ˘âŹâ˘t said publicly whether it favors releasing them in the U.S.
Attorney General Eric Holder and Defense Secretary Robert Gates have in recent months left open the possibility that Uighurs may be resettled in the U.S. The government had been making preparations to resettle some in the U.S. last month, though nothing has happened.
Robert Gibbs, a White House spokesman, was asked in April about a report that as many as seven Uighurs may be transferred to the U.S., and said he had no announcements on individual cases. Tommy Vietor, another spokesman, said today the White House had nothing to add to that response.
The U.S. has convened a multiagency task force to review each of the Guantanamo detainees to determine whether they should be released, tried in court or held indefinitely. The Justice Department, which is leading the review, wonât comment on where the Uighurs may be released, said spokesman Dean Boyd.
The government Ă˘âŹĹis making individual determinations on a rolling basis, based on the national-security and foreign- policy interests of the United States as well as the interests of justice,Ă˘âŹ
The U.S. Marshals Service was preparing to transfer two Uighurs to Northern Virginia last month, and more were supposed to follow, according to a Justice Department official who spoke on condition of anonymity. The plan was intended as a gesture to help convince allies to accept detainees, the official said.
The transfer didnât happen. Representative Frank Wolf, a Virginia Republican, raised objections with the administration about the plan and sent Obama a letter on May 1, saying he understood that a decision on the release of âa numberâ of Uighurs into the U.S. was imminent.
Wolf wrote that he has âgrave concerns about this action, which I believe could directly threaten the security of the American people.â To determine whether the Uighurs pose a threat, Wolf said he wants classified U.S. records made public.
âWho are they? Where were they arrested?â Wolf said in an interview. âWe want to know everything. What are they afraid of letting out?â
Several Uighurs this week expressed dismay about their status to reporters at Guantanamo by displaying statements written on paper saying: âAmerica is Double Hetler in unjustice,â according to Fox News, which said the word was meant to read âHitler.â Another statement said: âAmerica destroys human rights by oppressing innocent people in the jail,â according to Fox.
Training in Afghanistan
The Uighur detainees are from Xinjiang, a predominantly Muslim far-western region of China. Before Sept. 11, they traveled to Afghanistan to train in camps in the Tora Bora mountains, according to U.S. court filings.
The Uighursâ lawyers said they fled China because of racial repression and discrimination. The camps in Afghanistan were run by a Uighur separatist group designated by the State Department as a terrorist organization, according to the U.S. Some Uighurs said they had gone there for weapons training to fight the Chinese government, according to the Justice Departmentâs court filings.
Many of the Uighurs fled to Pakistan when the U.S.-led coalitionâs bombing campaign to oust the Taliban regime began in October 2001, according to the U.S. They were captured and turned over to the U.S. military.
They were originally branded enemy combatants by the U.S., though that label was later dropped. The Bush administration discussed resettlement with about 100 countries, Bellinger said. Albania accepted five in 2006.
China Demands Return
China, which considers the Uighur detainees terrorists, has repeatedly urged their return. The U.S. hasnât acceded to the request because the Uighurs âfear that if they are returned to China they will face arrest, torture or execution,â according to court papers.
In October, U.S. District Judge Ricardo Urbina in Washington ruled that President George W. Bushâs administration must free the detainees in the U.S. because it no longer considered them enemy combatants.
The government appealed the ruling, saying freeing the Uighurs âthreatens serious harmâ to the U.S. because they have had weapons training. A U.S. appeals court overturned the judgeâs ruling.
The lawyers for the Uighurs disputed the governmentâs assertion and petitioned the Supreme Court in April for their release, saying they have been imprisoned without charge for seven years.
Free to Go
The Justice Department filed a response last week saying the Uighurs are free to go to any country that will accept them. The U.S. is âengaged in extensive and high-level efforts to arrange their resettlement in other countries,â the department said in its response. The filing said the decision about whether to move them to the U.S. rests with the government, not the courts.
Lawyers for the Uighurs said their clients donât represent a threat, and they are pushing for their release in the U.S.
âIâve been talking up having them come to America,â said Elizabeth Gilson, a lawyer in New Haven, Connecticut, who represents two of the Uighurs.
Gilson and attorneys representing other Uighurs declined to comment on discussions with the government about where their clients may be sent.
Eric Tirschwell, an attorney with Kramer Levin Naftalis & Frankel LLP in New York who represents four Uighurs, said his clients have been unfairly characterized as terrorists.
âWe hope that all 17 of the Uighurs will be released quickly and continue to believe the United States must accept at least some of them before other countries will be prepared to do the same,â Tirschwell said in an interview.
To contact the reporter on this story: Justin Blum in Washington at firstname.lastname@example.org
Some Chinese Guantanamo Detainees Likely to Be Released in U.S. - Yahoo! News