Tuesday, April 18, 2006

Innocent Uighurs still at Guantanamo



The Supreme Court yesterday declined to expedite the case of two Uighurs, who have been held for four years at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, despite being cleared of ties to terrorism.

Lawyers for the ethnic Uighurs had hoped to skirt lower courts and go directly to the Supreme Court with their argument that the U.S. government has been improperly depriving the men of their freedom. The military has determined that the men are not enemy combatants, but officials have been unable to find a country that will accept them after their release.

Sabin Willett, a lawyer for the Uighurs, said he was expecting the decision because it is extremely rare for the Supreme Court to hear such a case before an appeals court issues its ruling.
"We thought this case was so unusual and so important that they would hear the case, and we're disappointed they haven't,"
Willett said.
"But we're not surprised they didn't reach out and hear it now."

Uighurs have been agitating against the Chinese government and want to establish their own nation in Xinjiang province, which they call East Turkistan. The prisoners, considered terrorists by China, do not want to return to their homeland, where they would be likely to be imprisoned and tortured.

Justice Department lawyers have told federal courts that the government is working on a number of potential diplomatic solutions, asking countries around the world to accept the two men at the center of the case, Abu Bakker Qassim and Adel Abdu al-Hakim, and their Uighur compatriots and grant them asylum. Qassim and Hakim were captured by Pakistani security forces in late 2001 or early 2002 and held in Afghanistan for six months before their transfer to Guantanamo Bay in mid-2002.

The United States has been unwilling to give the men refuge despite guarantees from the Uighur community in the Washington area to take them in. Several countries have declined to accept the Uighurs for fear of drawing Beijing's ire.

"It is rather disappointing because it is an important issue,"
said Nury Turkel, president of the Washington-based Uyghur American Association.
"We're hopeful some good results will come from the appeals court and these men will be freed. The lack of progress is causing them a lot of frustration."


A federal court judge in Washington ruled in December that the continued detention of Qassim and Hakim is unlawful but that he had no authority to order their release.

Turkel said yesterday that Scandinavian countries might be willing to offer asylum to more than a dozen Uighurs from Guantanamo Bay. There are serious efforts underway as well to persuade the German government to accept the men, he said.

Germany has welcomed Uighur refugees, who have settled in the Munich area, forming one of the world's largest Uighur communities outside China. Turkel said the Uighur leadership in Germany offered last month to help with resettlement and has been asking the nation's government for help.

Die Welt, a German newspaper, reported over the weekend that the U.S. government has approached Berlin with a request to facilitate a transfer of the detainees to Germany.
source The Washington Post


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