Obama Administration Asserts Uighur Detainees Have No Right to Come to US

By Evan Harris

May 30, 2009 8:09pm

The Obama administration asked the U.S. Supreme Court Friday to reject a request for a hearing from 17 Chinese Muslims currently being held at Guantanamo Bay Naval Base, arguing they have no right to come to America despite a district judge's orders last Fall that they immediately be brought to the U.S. and released.

"Petitioners are free to return to their home country, but they understandably do not wish to do so, because they fear inhumane treatment there," reads the filing, signed by US Solicitor General Elena Kagan, Assistant Attorney General Tony West, and other Justice Department officials. "Petitioners are also free to go to any other country that is willing to accept them."

Many European countries are waiting for the US to accept the Uighurs before they agree to accept any more detainees from Guantanamo, but there is strong resistance from Congress, which recently voted to keep any detainees out of the US — even out of US prisons.

But not to worry — the Obama administration says the Uighurs' detention isn't so bad, considering.

"In contrast to individuals currently detained as enemies under the laws of war, petitioners are being housed under relatively unrestrictive conditions, given the status of Guantanamo Bay as a United States military base," Kagan writes, saying they are "in special communal housing with access to all areas of their camp, including an outdoor recreation space and picnic area." They "sleep in an air-conditioned bunk house and have the use of an activity room equipped with various recreational items, including a television with VCR and DVD players, a stereo system, and sports equipment."

Asked for comment, White House spokesman Ben LaBolt said, "a federal judge ordered the release of the Uighurs during the previous administration, and we have been working hard to implement that court order, bearing in mind that we will not release any detainee who would endanger the security of the American people."

On October 7, 2008, the D.C. District Court Judge Ricardo Urbina ordered that all 17 Uighurs be released into the United States by Friday, October 10.

The Bush administration appealed the case to the DC Circuit Court which on February 18, 2009, reversed the lower court's decision.

On April 3, 2009, the Uighurs asked the US Supreme Court to hear their case. 

The Obama administration on Friday urged the Supreme Court to not hear the case of the Uighurs, and to uphold the appellate court ruling.

You can read the filing in the case Kiyemba v Obama HERE.

Ironically, the Obama administration is now using Congress's refusal to allocate funding for the closing of Guantanamo as further reason why the Uighurs should not be freed. Mentioning that the House of Representatives passed a supplemental defense appropriations bill containing a provision specifying
that “(n)one of the funds made available in this or any prior Act may be used to release an individual who is detained" at Guantanamo.

The Uighurs, a Turkic Muslim minority from the Xinjiang province of far-west China, were living in the Tora Bora mountains in Afghanistan run by the Eastern Turkistan Islamic Movement, a Uighur independence group the State Department designated as terrorist three years after their capture.

Evidence indicates that some of the Uighurs intended to fight the Chinese government and received firearms training at the camp.

They fled to Pakistan after U.S. aerial strikes destroyed their camp after September 11, 2001 and were turned over to the U.S. military and detained as “enemy combatants" though they had no apparent animus towards the U.S.

A prior case involving the Uighurs, Parhat v Gates, resulted in the court concluding there wasn't enough reliable evidence in the record to establish that the Eastern Turkistan Islamic Movement was “associated with” al Qaeda or the Taliban or that the Eastern Turkistan Islamic Movement engaged in hostilities against the US or its allies — two criteria the Bush administration acknowledged were necessary to justify the long-term detention of the Uighurs. The Bush administration ruled it would no longer try to hold the Uighurs as enemy combatants.

Kagan also wrote that the Obama administration "is engaged in extensive and high level efforts to arrange their resettlement in other countries."

The Sydney Morning Herald reports that the Obama administration has asked the Australian government to accept six of the Uighurs. A spokesman for Australian Foreign Minister Stephen Smith said "The Australian Government will consider this request, on a case-by-case basis, and in accordance with the Government's strict immigration and national security requirements."

- jpt

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