Order to Release Uighur Detainees at Guantanamo Blocked
October 9, 2008 - 6:53 AM<br />
The three-judge U.S. Court of Appeals panel okayed a government request for more time to argue against the release of the detainees into U.S. society.
“The purpose of this administrative stay is to give the court sufficient opportunity to consider the merits of the motion for stay pending appeal and should not be construed in any way as a ruling on the merits of that motion,” the judges wrote.
On Tuesday, the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia ordered their release into the U.S., ruling that their continued detention was unlawful. District Judge Ricardo Urbina gave the government until Friday morning to do so, and also ordering immigration officials not to take them into custody upon their arrival on American soil.
But Justice Department attorneys argued in the appeal application that the lower court order conflicts the principle that decisions on letting aliens into the U.S. rests with the executive, not with the courts.
They said the court decision “threatens serious harm to the interests of the United States and its citizens by mandating that the government release in the nation’s capital 17 individuals who engaged in weapons training at a military training camp.”
The Uighurs are among hundreds of detainees who have been held as terror suspects at Guantanamo Bay after being captured in Afghanistan, Pakistan and elsewhere since late 2001. The Pentagon says some 255 remain there.
The government says the Uighurs underwent weapons training at a camp in Taliban-ruled Afghanistan, but in October 2004 approved their release after determining they were not enemy combatants.
But the detainees remained in custody while the U.S. looked for a third country willing to take them, because of fears they would face persecution, torture or execution if returned to China.
Beijing’s treatment of the Uighur minority has for years drawn sharp criticism from the U.S. and other Western governments and rights groups.
The Uighurs are Turkic-speaking Muslims who briefly enjoyed independence as East Turkistan in the 1930s and 40s. In 1949 the area fell under communist Chinese rule.
Beijing calls the resource-rich far-western region, which accounts for one-sixth of modern China’s territory, the Xinjiang Autonomous Region.
Four months after 9/11, the Chinese government published a document linking Muslim separatists in Xinjiang with al-Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden.
The U.S. in 2002 designated the separatist East Turkistan Islamic Movement (ETIM) under an executive order designed to disrupt funding to terrorists by freezing assets in the U.S.
The State Department says a small minority of Uighurs in Xinjiang support the group, and accuses Beijing of using counterterrorism as a pretext for repression in the region.
In the run-up to the Olympic Games in Beijing last August, the Chinese government warned of a terror threat to the games emanating from Xinjiang, and reported carrying out arrests and smashing training camps. It blamed several bombings, in Kunming, Shanghai and two southern cities, on Uighur terrorists.
In Beijing, foreign ministry spokesman Qin Gang told a press briefing Tuesday that the “Chinese terrorists” should be handed over for China to deal with in accordance with the law.
He said it was the responsibility of all countries to combat terrorism, and “double standards” should not be adopted.