Chinese Muslims Ordered Released From Guantanamo
Wednesday, October 8, 2008
A federal judge yesterday ordered a small band of Chinese Muslims being held at the Guantanamo Bay military prison released into the United States by Friday, rejecting the Bush administration's contention that it could detain them indefinitely without cause.
It was the first time a U.S. judge has ordered the release of a Guantanamo Bay detainee, and the first time a foreign national held at the facility in Cuba has been ordered transferred to the United States.
U.S. District Judge Ricardo M. Urbina issued his ruling in dramatic fashion from the bench in a packed courtroom, saying he was ordering the release of 17
Uighurs because the government provided no proof that they were enemy combatants or security risks. Under the order, the men will live with Uighur families in the Washington area until a more permanent situation can be found.
"Because the Constitution prohibits indefinite detention without cause, the government's continued detention of the [detainees] is unlawful," Urbina said. "Because separation-of-powers concerns do not trump the very principle upon which this nation was founded -- the unalienable right to liberty -- the court orders the government to release the [men] into the United States."
Urbina ordered the detainees and the Uighur families to appear in his courtroom Friday. A Defense Department spokesman said the military is working with other government agencies to prepare for the detainees' move to Washington.
But the Justice Department said it is filing an emergency appeal, because the judge's decision "presents serious national security and separation-of-powers concerns." A White House spokeswoman issued a statement saying that "we are deeply concerned by, and strongly disagree with" the ruling.
In court hearings leading up to yesterday's ruling, the government argued that only President Bush has the authority to allow the men into the country. In addition, U.S. law would deny the
Uighurs entry because they trained at camps sponsored by the East Turkistan Islamic Movement, a group that the Bush administration designated a terrorist organization after the men were detained, the lawyers have argued.
The Uighurs' attorneys, human rights groups and members of Congress from both parties have advocated for their release, saying the men have no conflict with the United States and have been detained unfairly for too long. The 17 Uighurs (pronounced "WEE-gurz") have been held at the Cuban prison for nearly seven years since they were picked up in Pakistan.
The government has cleared 60 of about 255 remaining Guantanamo Bay detainees for release, including the Uighurs. But unlike other captives, the separatist
Uighurs cannot be sent to their homeland because the Chinese government considers them terrorists and might torture them. The United States sent five