A Home for a Detainee

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Saturday, August 16, 2008

HUZAIFA PARHAT may be one of the unluckiest people alive. Captured in Pakistan after fleeing a training camp in Afghanistan, Mr. Parhat has been held at the U.S. Naval Station in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, since 2002. Mr. Parhat is an ethnic Uighur who fled China because of the abuses committed against Uighurs in his native country. As early as 2003, the U.S. government determined that he posed little risk and was an "attractive candidate for release"; in June a federal appeals court in Washington ruled that the process used to assess whether Mr. Parhat was an enemy combatant was so flawed -- and the evidence against him so flimsy -- that the United States had to either release or transfer him or give him give a new tribunal hearing.

This month the administration declared that it would treat him "as if he were no longer an enemy combatant and house him accordingly while it uses its best efforts to place him in a foreign country." This probably means that he will be housed in a facility in Guantanamo where residents have more freedom and access to TVs and recreational activities. While welcome news, this development continues to leave Mr. Parhat in limbo.

Mr. Parhat cannot be returned to his homeland because he is likely to face abuse and retaliation at the hands of the government. The State Department has been trying for years to persuade other countries to accept Mr. Parhat and some 20 other ethnic Uighurs. Albania agreed to take five such detainees in 2006; it has balked at accepting more, and no other country has stepped forward. Mr. Parhat is now asking that a federal judge order the government to release him into the United States.

It is not clear whether a federal court has the authority to order the government to bring into the United States a foreign national who is being held outside of the country, and the administration is forcefully resisting such a conclusion. It is clear, however, that President Bush must do right by Mr. Parhat even while working to keep off the books a judicial determination that could force future administrations to take in detainees who are far less sympathetic and even potentially dangerous.

Mr. Bush should use his power as chief executive to essentially grant Mr. Parhat asylum and allow him into the country. The president must be clear that he condemns the terrorist acts carried out by some Uighur separatists and that there is no evidence that Mr. Parhat has participated in such deeds. The International Uighur Human Rights and Democracy Foundation, a well-regarded organization based in Washington, has vouched for Mr. Parhat and offered to facilitate his transition. In late July, as part of a discussion on human rights in China, Mr. Bush publicly met with the group's leader, Rebiya Kadeer, who was granted asylum in 2005. Taking in Mr. Parhat would go a long way toward persuading allies to open their doors also.

© 2008 The Washington Post Company

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