No release for Guantanamo’s Uighurs

“Appeals court blocks release of Guantanamo detainees”:

A federal appeals court temporarily blocked the release of 17 Chinese-born Muslims detained at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba , a day after a landmark decision required them to be freed to the U.S….

…”Seventeen men were told yesterday that they were going to be released after nearly seven years of wrongful detention,” said Emi MacLean , an attorney for the Center for Constitutional Rights , which coordinates the representation of detainees including the Uighurs. “Now, they have to be told that their detention will continue to be indefinite.”

The Uighurs are among a group of more than 60 men inside the prison who’ve been cleared for release by the military but who are stuck in limbo because the U.S. government can’t find a country to ship them to. The Uighurs say they can’t return to China because they’ll be tortured as political dissidents.

Urbina’s decision marked the first time a court had ordered the transfer of Guantanamo detainees to the U.S. and could have prompted the release of others who’ve been cleared by the military.

Urbina declared the continued detention of the Uighurs to be “unlawful” and said the government could no longer detain them after conceding they weren’t enemy combatants.

However, Justice Department lawyers continued to argue that the release of the group into the U.S. could pose a security risk and warned that the decision could harm international relations with China.

In court papers, Justice Department lawyers attacked Urbina’s ruling, warning in court papers of “serious harms to the government and the public at large” if the appeals court did not intervene.

The lawyers said that Urbina’s decision “directly conflicts with the basic principle” that the executive branch, specifically the Department of Homeland Security , has sole discretion as to whether to admit foreigners into the U.S. The Justice Department also raised security concerns about releasing men they say were captured at a weapons training camp run by the Taliban in Afghanistan.

The Uighurs attorneys disputed that characterization, saying the men merely were living in a small village in Afghanistan where they’d kept one weapon, but lacked ammunition.

Show of hands โ€” who do you believe?

Maybe I’m cynical.

The Discussion: 34 Comments

I’m not surprised, really – appeal courts usually are quite cautious. If they hadn’t blocked the release there wouldn’t have been any point to the appeal, unless they would only have been released into someone else’s custody in the US.

Hopefully the court will come to the right decision soon enough.

October 9, 2008 @ 3:11 pm | Comment

could pose a security risk and warned that the decision could harm international relations with China.

From what we *know*, the security risk is unknown, but probably much ado about nothing (my opinion only). Pissing China off, in however small a way, is a virtual certainty. Unlawful, possibly, to be determined later in court? We don’t see much of the appeals court’s reasoning in this article, so we can only guess. Certainly disappointing for them, though it sounds like their attorney will keep the pressure on, and not let them just disappear back into the black hole. Maybe Justice is just waiting for their acceptance by another, so far unknown, country?

October 9, 2008 @ 5:33 pm | Comment

Maybe Justice is just waiting for their acceptance by another, so far unknown, country?

Certainly I don’t think they want to deport them back to China. So does America offer them asylum or try to send them off somewhere “safe” overseas?

October 9, 2008 @ 7:08 pm | Comment

Asylum is the proper moral stance, I think, but not good for relations with China. Europe seems to welcome most immigrants…I wonder if they’ve approached anyone.

October 9, 2008 @ 7:18 pm | Comment

The Bush Administration has created a medieval dungeon at Guantanamo Bay. Tossing people into a cell “indefinitely” were they remain for 7 years or their entire lives is irresponsible. If they committed a crime charge and try them. If they have enough information to classify them as a security risk then they should have enough information to formally charge them or be able to determine that they should not have been brought to US territory at all.

What this means is the Bush administration does not know what to do or do not have enough sense of duty, honor or integrity to make a decision they can held accountable for. So they leave people in their dungeon at guantanamo. For 7 years. No decision. No accountability. No responsibility. Just stone walling to maintain the staus quo until the incompetent idiots in the bush administration are finally tossed out on january 20th 2009. Then the next president will be challenged to fix another Bush mess.

October 9, 2008 @ 8:17 pm | Comment

We are again seeing Western media bias. This time they, and many people here, assume that these 17 people are innocent. If we look at this case from China’s perspective, these people’s guilt is in no doubt. They have taken up arm against China. They have committed treason. They should be brought to justice, in China.

China has not been vigorous enough to pursue its enemies outside its boarder. Things should change now that China is assuming more responsibility in the international community. A repatriation pact with the US should be sought, so that criminals can not hide in the other country to avoid justice. I say this to include American criminals hiding in China as well. There was the case of Kenneth Freeman, a child rapist. He fled the country and lived in China for many years.

October 9, 2008 @ 8:36 pm | Comment

If we look at this case from Chinaโ€™s perspective, these peopleโ€™s guilt is in no doubt.

Such that the verdict has already been reached and any trial will be an administrative matter, rather than an attempt to decide on whether they are guilty or innocent.

A repatriation pact with the US should be sought, so that criminals can not hide in the other country to avoid justice.

Please, no one would ever agree to such a thing what with the Chinese criminal judicial system being what it is. In the US it’s “innocent until proven guilty” in China it’s “guilty until proven innocent, though we may just decide you’re guilty and not let your lawyers attend”.

October 9, 2008 @ 9:30 pm | Comment

the uighurs will be held indefinitely until a new president is sworn in january 2009. the bush justice department appealed the decision to release them because allowing it to go unchallenged would be equivalent to the bush administration admitting they made a mistake when they sent the uighurs to guantanamo in the first place. also US domestic politics is the key factor. palin is energizing the base with stories of domestic terrorists and hussein to loud boos and violent threats. the republican base would be confused if bush released the uighurs now in an election year. palin is busy linking obama to muslim terrorists for the base, releasing the uighurs would create a paradox that palin could not explain to the angry lynch mob she and mccain are forming in the best tradition of karl rove.

a more rational decision should have been made in afghanistan when they were originally captured, they should not have been brought to guantanamo. they should have been held in afghanistan and handled as afghani combatants and turned over to karzai government in afghanistan to decide what to do.

after lecturing hu jin tao on religious freedom good ole GW would look like a big hyprocrit if he sent uighurs to china for execution.

this is just another example of the incompetence, lack of leadership, and manipulation of the “war on terror” for domestic political purposes by bush and now palin.

if they are truly not a security risk and deserving of release in the US and asylum here in the US then that would require the Bush administration to see muslims in shades of gray.

the justice department could have charged them with a crime and found them guilty and then sentenced them to seven years and released them for time served.

October 10, 2008 @ 12:16 am | Comment

If ben laden is caught in China today, and beijing asks for exchange with the 12 guys, would you support it?

October 10, 2008 @ 2:40 am | Comment

Fatbrick, no, I would not. That doesn’t mean it wouldn’t happen, of course.

Here’s the thing: we in the US need to follow our own legal system and Constitution. We’ve seen far too many examples in the last eight years of what happens when we do not.

China is trying to develop its legal system – it is a work in progress, and I think a majority of Chinese people familiar with China’s legal system would agree with that.

The fear is, given the stage of development of China’s legal system, that the Uighurs would not receive a fair trial; therefore deporting them to China would be extremely problematic by US law and custom.

It’s a mess of a situation, no two ways about it. These men might be a threat to China, or they might not be. It’s clear that after many years of unlawful detention, the US military does not consider them threats – this second article spells this out far more explicitly than the first.

The point is, if we, the US, had followed our own laws and our own Constitution, we would not be in this situation. These men never would have been detained, or they would have been detained, tried and either sentenced or released.

Reading between the lines, it’s clear to me that the real reasons the Bush Administration does not want these men released are two: they don’t want to piss off China, and they don’t want to provide the legal opening to release the other 60 men who are no longer considered “enemy combatants.” They want to stall and throw the whole mess in the lap of the next administration.

In my view, the US has no choice, ultimately, but to release these men, either grant them asylum in the US or in some neutral country – and not someplace like Albania, where a few other Uighur detainees were quietly shipped a year or so ago. The advantage to granting them asylum in the US is that they can be watched, in case they are actually dangerous.

More to the point, it’s the right thing to do.

Again, I recognize that in China this is seen very differently, that those of you commenting on this board have already decided that these men are dangerous terrorists. I sympathize. They might be. But that’s part of the problem. Until China can provide them with a fair hearing, with uncoerced testimony, the US, by its own traditions, should not send them back to China.

That doesn’t mean the US won’t. Look at the practice of extraordinary rendition these past years to see how the US government has gotten around its own “We don’t torture” statements. Sure we do. We just try and outsource it whenever possible.

October 10, 2008 @ 3:34 am | Comment

Lisa, I gather you are essentially saying until China develops a *perfect* legal system, or the one matches that in the U.S., or any one of your choice in the *free world* for that matter, China shouldn’t be in the business of prosecuting criminals, or receiving assistance (damn the INTERPOL) from countries of more *advanced* legal system, right?

October 10, 2008 @ 4:49 am | Comment

No, I am not. I am saying that when the US legal system and the Chinese legal system conflict in a fundamental way, that we have to follow our own laws with people who are in our custody.

At the risk of repeating myself (repeatedly), it’s a very screwed up situation, one in which China has legitimate interests and one that has no good remedy.

Jeez, Bob. Read Chinese commentary on the Chinese legal system. It’s absurd for you to get on your high horse here and pretend that there aren’t systemic flaws. That’s what happens when you have to construct a legal system on the fly. It’s a huge challenge, and I think there are some truly dedicated people in China who are trying to make it work. But it is going to take some time and some consistency that hasn’t developed yet.

And now do I have to once again state my strong opinion that the US has screwed up, repeatedly, massively, immorally here?

Gah. It drives me crazy.

October 10, 2008 @ 5:01 am | Comment

Lisa, I do not think so. USA has sent hundreds of people back to Saudi, Afgan, PK, and other middle east and africa countries. What is the logic in that move? Some of those people cerntainly pose no security risk to USA. Are you saying the countries I mentioned above have the same advanced or consistent legal system with USA?

October 10, 2008 @ 5:15 am | Comment

Fatbrick, please read my earlier comment. I specifically address “extraordinary rendition.” I think it’s terrible, except in, well, extraordinary circumstances.

Generally I think that deporting criminals to their home countries when “home” is someplace like Saudi Arabia is a tough call, for all the reasons we’ve already mentioned. They have to be looked at on a case by case basis, which is why these kinds of cases end up in the court system and take a long time to resolve. I don’t think you can come up with a “one size fits all” rule that is going to cover every situation.

In this case, the Uighurs were unlawfully detained. The US military does not consider them terrorists or criminals. They’ve already been in prison for seven years. I think under the circumstances that granting them asylum in the US is appropriate – it’s the best of a lot of bad options.

October 10, 2008 @ 5:24 am | Comment

And as a p.s., the US prison system is pretty dreadful itself, and our legal system has suffered as well from things like “3 Strikes” legislation and Federal sentencing mandates, which remove judicial discretion.

Justice is not served by an overly rigid system that does not consider the larger circumstances of a case.

October 10, 2008 @ 5:29 am | Comment

Lisa, I think you misunderstood. I am not trying to play the “you are not perfect either” game.

Perhaps I should’ve been more specific — the objection I raised in my previous post was directed to this statement of yours: “Until China can provide them with a fair hearing, with uncoerced testimony, the US, by its own traditions, should not send them back to China.”

To me, it is fairly obvious you are suggesting that because of the flaws in its legal system, China should not be at the receiving end of INTEROL cooperations in fighting terrorism.

Speaking of presumption of innocence until proven guilt, don’t you think it’s a bit ironic that you have already assumed China’s guilt in advance, that it will not give these men a fair trial before the event takes place?

October 10, 2008 @ 5:57 am | Comment

Obviously by “you are not perfect either” I am referring to U.S. legal system.

October 10, 2008 @ 6:03 am | Comment

Ah. My apologies, Bob. That’s a very good point.

Basically what you have here is an asylum case – the mens’ lawyers claim that they will not be given a fair trial in China based on past precedent (what’s happened to other Uighurs in similar circumstances) – combined with something else – the unconstitutional and unlawful circumstances in which these men were confined by the US government.

As an American, this is such a central issue to me because IMO, the Bush Administration has undermined the very foundations of American government and in many ways, American society by its flagrant disregard of the Constitution, the rule of law and the separation of powers. I have to give this priority over Chinese concerns in the case because it goes to the heart of what has gone wrong in America the last eight years. The US government is morally obligated, in my opinion, to compensate these men for the injustice, against our own laws, committed against them.

Again (again), I am not trying to minimize Chinese concerns here. There are no good answers. But this never should have happened in the first place.

October 10, 2008 @ 6:07 am | Comment

Despite the problems in the Chinese legal system, building a strong case against these men in China is not difficult. I see no reason why they cannot receive a fair trial. Consider the facts: They are members of East Turkestan Islamic Movement, an terrorist organization according to the US government; they took up arm against China; they received weapons training in campus affiliated with Al Qaeda. China can certainly charge them for treason based on their violent secessionist activities.

As the current economic crisis deepens, sooner or later some Western countries will go to China asking for money. Iceland just got money from Russia. Of course we are talking about a higher profile country,like Spain. When that happens, China should demand repatriation rights. People like the Dalai Lama, Chen Shui-bian, Lee Teng-Hui, and Lai Changxing should be high on the repatriation list. And also these small potatoes in Guantanamo.

October 10, 2008 @ 6:16 am | Comment

Justice for money, eh? That’s nice.

Oookay, I’m outta here. Time for my walk, return some library books, buy groceries and enjoy the lovely weather by the beach.

October 10, 2008 @ 6:28 am | Comment

These men should be returned to Afghanistan, period.

Serve the people

I think Chen and Lee are in China now, no?

October 10, 2008 @ 8:50 am | Comment

You don’t think that if the United States committed an injustice against these men that the United States owes them something?

This is an honest question, not snark.

When innocent men and women have been wrongly convicted in our legal system, they are frequently compensated by responsible parties (or they sue and get their compensation that way). Aside from the constitutional issues involved, to me, if you screw up and injure somebody, you owe them something. Particularly when the injury is compounded by the government refusing to own up to its mistake.

October 10, 2008 @ 9:55 am | Comment

Not being cynical here, but don’t you think the US should compensate those civilians killed in the Iraq War first?

Saddam got a fair trial.. yeah

October 10, 2008 @ 10:36 am | Comment

You don’t want to get me started about the Iraq war…but in a word, yes.

But given the magnitude of that disaster, I don’t think the Uighurs in Guantanamo should have to wait that long.

October 10, 2008 @ 10:47 am | Comment

Lisa, you are talking about a one size fits all issue. You cited the flaw in Chinese legal system as your reason. Granted it. Then what about other Chinese criminals? If they reached USA, they can avoid the justice? According to you, they can always cite the flaws in Chinese legal system as reasons not to be sent back. What are you going to do? Keep them in USA and make USA a save heaven for Chinese criminals?

You want to talk about “case by case”? What is so different? Whether unlawful retaining those people is irrelevant, becasue you are talking about unlawful to US law, now they are the suspects in Chinese law. This is a legimate request from China gov.

October 10, 2008 @ 8:19 pm | Comment

The Uighurs in question have not committed any crimes in China other than leaving China for political reason. Until the US detained them their presence in afghanistan was not known to the chinese government so they are not wanted criminals. Because there is no extradition treaty there is no formal agreement to return any citizen between china and the us. every case has to be handled individually because there is no agreement between the us and china to do anything different.

If these Uighurs had committed a crime in China and the Chinese had notified the US they were looking for them before they were detained it would be a different story.

It is only after the fact of their detention that China decided they are criminals.

October 11, 2008 @ 12:21 am | Comment

“The Uighurs in question have not committed any crimes in China other than leaving China for political reason.”

That’s for China to decide, not you.

October 11, 2008 @ 1:07 am | Comment

Fatbrick, I don’t think what you concluded is a consequence of my statements. If you decide things case by case, some Chinese will be deported to China, others won’t. Quite frankly, much of the time the US gov. would like nothing better than to deport criminals to their home countries and does so routinely. But when the individuals in question are seen as being politically persecuted and not actual criminals, things get more complicated.

I do know that there have been some sticky cases where economic criminals have claimed asylum in…Canada, I believe. I’m thinking of one instance where it’s pretty clear the guy embezzled money and is claiming that the Canadian government should not send him back to China because he will face execution there. This is not a good outcome – but Canada does not execute people for economic crimes, so it’s a difficult situation.

Realize that this is not just a situation that exists between China and the US, but between all kinds of countries. For example, I think that Mexico has refused to extradite criminals to the US because in the US they would face the death penalty. So it cuts both ways. In some cases the US has agreed not to pursue the death penalty in order to have suspects extradited.

Regarding the Uighurs – I can only repeat that this is a singular and difficult situation with no good answers. These men do not appear to be dangerous. They are not enemy combatants. But as I’ve said – repeatedly – for me, this is about US addressing an injustice committed by the US, and without some kind of real evidence that these men pose an active danger to China (if their only crime is fleeing China, it’s hard to argue that they should be sent back somewhere they felt compelled to flee), I think that US responsibilities towards these men based on US actions override China’s interests in this case.

And if they are living in the US, they can be watched, and I would bet you good money that they will be, legally or not.

October 11, 2008 @ 4:41 am | Comment

I have to disagree with Lisa’s statement that these men do not pose active danger to China. If you take up arm against your own country, there is clearly enough evidence for a treason case. Remember John Walker, the American Taliban captured in Afghanistan. He was only a member of Taliban and did not even intend to harm America, but still got a long jail sentence, twenty years I think. A case against these Uighurs will seem far stronger than the Walker case.

October 11, 2008 @ 7:18 am | Comment

Serve, I thought John Walker’s sentence was politically motivated and extremely unfair. He had the misfortune to be caught at a time when demands for justice – and revenge – overrode judicial sense.

October 11, 2008 @ 12:31 pm | Comment

If China was aware of the uighurs in question prior to being detained by the US and that they had in fact committed a criminal act in china then there would have been some communication made by china to the world “hey keep an eye out for these 17 uighurs they committed x, y, z”

Since that did not occur it can reasonably be determined that they are not in fact criminal fugitves from the PRC.

They were in Afghanistan tracing their roots along the silk road.

October 11, 2008 @ 1:10 pm | Comment

On second thought, I think the US can have those Uighurs..Give them green cards, citizenship.. housing, health care..

You guys can have them, not China’s problem no more ๐Ÿ™‚

October 11, 2008 @ 5:13 pm | Comment

To Lindel and Lisa,

Whether China had the knowledge about these Uighurs at the time when they were captured has little relevance. The point is whether a case against these people can be built in China now. My argument is that at this time there is ample evidence for a treason case. In that famous video tape, Bin Laden explicitly mentioned the Chinese members in his organization. I suspect he was talking about these Uighurs.

You can argue that the US government has done injustice to them. But they have not faced justice in China. Here is my proposal: the US government gives each of them a few million dollars to compensate for their time in Guantanamo and then deport them to China to face trial. If convicted in China, they should only serve the time, if there is any, in addition to what they have already served in Guantanamo. Moreover their compensation money should be returned to US since their Guantanamo time is now part of the Chinese prison time and the US no longer owes them anything.

October 11, 2008 @ 11:08 pm | Comment

Heh – Tree Sitter, I meant to say that at some point. Wouldn’t China rather not have to deal with these guys?

Serve, I still disagree with you, but your argument makes sense and would certainly be more fair than ignoring the Guantanamo detention.

Thanks, everyone, for the good discussion.

October 12, 2008 @ 1:22 am | Comment

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