Rights Group Applauds Decision to Release 17 Chinese Uighers Held at Guantanamo Bay

Washington, DC – Human Rights First applauds U.S. District Judge Ricardo Urbina’s decision today to order the release of 17 Chinese Uighers who have been detained at Guantanamo Bay for nearly seven years.

“Today’s ruling takes yet another step toward dismantling the flawed legal framework underlying the detentions at Guantanamo and toward repairing our reputation as a nation committed to human rights and the rule of law,” said Human Rights First Senior Associate Deborah Colson. “Judge Urbina correctly found that the U.S. Constitution prohibits the indefinite detention of innocent men and women without legal cause.”

The men were cleared for release in 2004, and last week the U.S. government finally conceded that the Uighers would no longer be treated as “enemy combatants.” Nonetheless, the U.S. government has rightfully not returned the men to China because it fears that they will be abused upon their return. No third country has agreed to accept the Uighers, a fact that is not surprising given the Bush Administration’s pronouncements that all Guantanamo prisoners were dangerous terrorists.

Since September 11, 2001, the U.S. government has used the state secrets privilege and other flawed legal justifications to undermine the ability of individuals to seek remedies for human rights violations resulting from alleged government misconduct. “Judge Urbina’s decision reaffirms the role of the judiciary in resolving cases and granting remedies,” said Colson.

Resettling the Uighers in the United States is also an important step towards closing Guantanamo, a major endeavor that will require the commitment and cooperation of third countries, including our European allies, as is described a recently-issued Human Right First blueprint for closing the detention facility. (See http://www.humanrightsfirst.org/wp-content/uploads/pdf/080818-USLS-gitmo-blueprint.pdf.)

“The failure of the United States to resettle any Guantanamo prisoners here has only compounded the reluctance of other countries to accept third-party nationals,” said Devon Chaffee, Advocacy Counsel for Human Rights First, who attended today’s hearing. “Judge Urbina’s decision today will send an important message to third countries and should increase their willingness to accept some Guantanamo prisoners themselves.”

The government likely will appeal today’s ruling. But Judge Urbina has refused to grant the government a stay of the proceedings and has scheduled a hearing later this week for the Uighers and their attorneys to present testimony on how they could be monitored following their release.

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Published on October 7, 2008

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