On Tuesday, United States District Court Judge Ricardo Urbina ordered the release of 17 Chinese Muslims, called Uighurs, who have been held at Guantanamo Bay for over six years. The judge, citing the Supreme Court’s June decision in Boumediene v. Bush, ruled that detaining people indefinitely without court review “is not in keeping with our system of government,” and demanded that the Uighurs be immediately released into the United States. Despite the fact that the government has already cleared the detainees for release, and no longer considers them to be “enemy combatants,” the Bush administration has vowed to fight the judge’s order, filing an appeal in the DC Circuit.
As we mentioned in an earlier post, the Uighurs are an ethnic minority from western China who have faced years of oppression by the Chinese government. These particular detainees fled across the border to Afghanistan in hopes of escaping persecution. Unfortunately, they traded one form of oppression for another. The United States accused them of being “enemy combatants” and brought them to Guantanamo Bay, despite the fact that the Uighurs have traditionally supported Western governments as a foil to Chinese authoritarianism. After years of legal battles, the Uighurs were able to convince the US government that they were innocent and were cleared for release. Unfortunately, after being classified as terrorists by the US government, most nations were reluctant to accept them, leaving the Uighurs in a sort of limbo – deemed innocent, but stuck in Guantanamo.
Now it seems that the Bush administration wants to use these innocent men as pawns in its war with the judiciary, which has consistently rebuked the president’s claims of sweeping executive powers. Showing no regard for the fact that these detainees pose no threat to the United States, the administration has decided to fight their release order, claiming that it sets a dangerous precedent. Of course, if the administration had simply released them to begin with, there would never have been a need for the court to intervene. Still, the DC Circuit Court of Appeals has agreed to consider the case, and has stayed the release of the 17 detainees. It looks like justice for the Uighurs is still a distant dream.