Chinese Detainees Released to Albania
Saturday, May 6, 2006
The plight of five ethnic Chinese detainees held at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, has come to an end, the State Department said yesterday. Albania has agreed to take in the detainees and is considering their applications for asylum.
The five are among a number of ethnic Chinese who have languished at Guantanamo Bay for several years after being picked up during the U.S. invasion of Afghanistan following the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks.
The U.S. military concluded the Uighurs -- members of a Turkic ethnic group -- presented no terrorist threat to the United States, but they continued to be held at the prison because they faced persecution if they were returned to their home country.
The Bush administration refused to allow their release into the United States and had been unable to find a country willing to accept them.
The State Department revealed Albania's acceptance in a three-sentence announcement that described the five as ethnic Uighurs and did not identify them by name.
The transfer short-circuits a lawsuit scheduled for argument Monday in the U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit.
Sabin Willett, an attorney in the lawsuit on behalf of two of the five Uighurs, said he is flying to Albania to ascertain his clients' circumstances.
"They are out of Gitmo -- that's good," Willett said. "Whether they're out of the frying pan and off the side of a stove, I don't know. I'll know more" after going to Albania, he said.
In a statement, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Albania said the five Chinese nationals applied for asylum and that the Albanian government "will continue with the relevant legal procedures."