April 24, 2009— -- They've been in legal limbo since last year, but speculation is now swirling that some of the 17 Uyghurs held at the detention center at Guantanamo Bay could soon be released into the United States.
Sources on Capitol Hill told ABC News' George Stephanopoulos Friday that Congressional leaders have been told that the men, ethnic Uyghurs originally from China, might be sent to the Virginia suburbs of Washington, D.C. The area is home to a small Uyghur community that has expressed willingness to take the men in.
The group of Uyghurs has spent seven years at Guantanamo Bay, though the U.S. government no longer considers them enemy combatants.
Nury Turkel, a former president of the Uyghur American Association, is a U.S.-trained lawyer who represents the detainees. He called the prospect of the Uyghurs' release "excellent news." However, he said, "I hope the men and Uyghur-American community won't end up disappointed like the previous times where we believed [the] Uyghurs' freedom was just a few days away."
Sen. Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, the top Republican in the U.S. Senate, jumped on reports of the Uyghurs' upcoming release, saying in a statement Friday that he hopes the Obama administration would provide information to Congress and "a guarantee of safety for American citizens" before releasing "these terrorist-trained detainees onto the streets of a U.S. community."
McConnell asserted that the administration has not yet provided such assurances.
"There's a reason U.S. law prohibits the entry of anyone trained in a terrorist camp," he continued. "Why that law would be ignored to bring terrorist-trained detainees into American cities has not been answered by this administration."
But Turkel said "Americans should not be afraid of the Uyghur prisoners in Gitmo because they have no beef with Americans or hostility towards the U.S. Actually, they're grateful to the U.S. government for the freedom and opportunity that it has given to Uyghurs in here."
"They consider America as a natural ally in their struggle against communism and dictatorship."
It is believed that if the United States returned the men to China, they could be tortured.