By Jeremy Pelofsky and James Vicini
Sunday, November 1, 2009
The Obama administration has sent six Uighur Chinese detainees from the U.S. military prison at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, to the Pacific island nation of Palau, an administration official and a rights group said Saturday.
The transfer leaves 215 detainees at the detention camp that President Obama has pledged to close by Jan. 22, although political and legal hurdles are making it difficult for his administration to meet that goal.
Palau has agreed to take up to a dozen Uighurs, who come from China's largely Muslim far-west region of Xinjiang and were captured by the U.S. government during the Afghanistan war. They have been deemed not to be "enemy combatants" but have remained at Guantanamo because of difficulty relocating them.
China has demanded the Uighurs be returned there, but the U.S. government has said it could not do so because they would face persecution, and it has searched for months for a nation willing to accept them.
The Center for Constitutional Rights, a group based in New York that has represented many Guantanamo prisoners, said six Uighurs had landed in Palau.
Three are clients of the center while the other three are represented by other lawyers. An administration official confirmed the detainees had been sent to Palau.
The departures occurred after the Supreme Court -- rejecting the administration's position -- said on Oct. 20 that it would hear an appeal by the Uighurs, who argued that they should be released in the United States.
However, Obama signed into law legislation Congress passed barring the release of any detainees from Guantanamo into the United States.
The center identified its three clients as Ahmad Tourson, Adel Noori and Abdulghappar Abdulrahman.
Palau has agreed to provide a temporary home for the three men while the United States continues to search for a country where they can be permanently resettled, the rights group said.