On October 7, 2008,
US District Judge Ricardo M. Urbina said it would be wrong for the government to continue holding the detainees, known as Uighurs (WEE'-gurz), who have been jailed for nearly seven years, since they are no longer considered enemy combatants. Over the objections of government lawyers who called them a security risk, Urbina ordered their release in Washington D.C. by Friday.
"Because the Constitution prohibits indefinite detentions without cause, the continued detention is unlawful," Urbina said in a ruling that brought cheers and applause from a standing-room only courtroom filled with dozens of Uighurs and human rights activists.
He also ordered a hearing for next week to decide where the Uighurs should be permanently settled. Until then, members of the Uighur community in the D.C. area have offered to take them in and will help care for them.
But The Guardian reported today that the 17 Chinese men will nevertheless be held indefinitely at Guantanamo. Their lawyer, Sabin Willet, said yesterday that
"They were on freedom's doorstep," said Willett. "The plane was at Gitmo. The stateside Lutheran refugee services and the Uighur families and Tallahassee clergy were ready to receive them." However, the justice department appealed against the ruling and Willett claims this will put the men into a potentially endless limbo.
Yesterday Willett said his clients were "saddened" by the latest events. The men, who are Muslims, were in Afghanistan in 2001 and were captured by Pakistani troops and handed over to the US. So far, more than 100 countries have been asked to take them as refugees but none have agreed. Willett blamed US authorities for incorrectly describing them as terrorists.
According to the US justice department, the men "are linked to an organisation that the state department has labelled to be a terrorist entity, and it is beside the point that the organisation is not 'a threat to us' because the law excluding members of such groups does not require such proof."
Willett is also angry the defence department will not agree to let him meet his clients unless they are chained to the floor. He called for this restriction to be lifted: "Just permit these men one shred of human dignity." He added: "Americans are not supposed to treat enemy prisoners of war this way under the service field manuals, or the Geneva conventions - if anyone paid attention to the field manuals or the Geneva conventions anymore."
Reading that they'd been ordered released, I was skeptical that the Government would actually comply with the order and was a little surprised by all the jubilation, as though these innocent bystanders swept up into the nightmare were as good as freed. The Bush Administration has always considered itself above the law. I didn't believe the (so-called) Justice Department would ever defer to a judge's orders at this late stage of the game.
Earlier articles on the case can be found here and here.
"How many times does the Bush administration need to be told that detainees are entitled to essential rights? All the remaining detainees in Guantanamo Bay must be either charged and tried or released immediately," said Larry Cox, executive director of Amnesty International USA.
On Tuesday, the Bush administration argued a federal judge did not have the power to order the release of a foreign-born detainee into the U.S., saying would undercut immigration laws that dictate how foreigners are brought into the country.
Call me disgusted.