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Uighurs' gambit

Wednesday, March 3, 2010; A16

THEY HAD HOPED for a new homeland far from the island fortress that is the U.S. Naval Base in Guantanamo, Cuba, where they could find fellowship with other Uighurs. Yet five Chinese Muslims wrongly detained for the past eight years now find freedom more elusive than ever.

It is a sad, but understandable consequence of a gambit gone bad.

The five were among 17 Uighurs who had been cleared for release by the Bush and Obama administrations but could not be returned to their native China for fear of mistreatment. In 2008, a D.C. federal judge, frustrated with the inability to find them suitable third countries and the prospect of indefinite detention, ordered the men released into the United States. The D.C. federal appeals court later overturned that ruling and the detainees appealed to the Supreme Court.

Twelve detainees then were offered and accepted refuge in Bermuda, Palau and Switzerland. Five others rejected offers from two countries, including Palau, but turned them down in large part because neither country was home to an established Uighur community.

The Supreme Court on Monday rightly dismissed the case of those five after learning of these refusals. Though it is natural that the Uighurs would want to live among those who speak their language and share cultural touchstones, the detainees had undercut their legal and moral argument that they were continuing to be held against their will. The Obama administration, which has done an admirable job of trying to relocate the Uighurs, should go back to the countries that opened their doors to these detainees to determine whether the offers still stand. Lawyers for the men should urge their clients to reconsider. And Congress should rethink its wrongheaded determination that no detainees be allowed on U.S. soil. The Uighurs are not ultimately at fault in this sad situation, and it is the height of hypocrisy to ask of allies what Congress is unwilling to do.

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