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Free the Uighurs!

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February 18, 2009

The Uighurs are an ethnic Muslim minority from Northwestern China. Seventeen Uighur men have been detained at Guantánamo for over seven years; in January, district court judge Ricardo Urbina ruled that they should be freed immediately since they’re not “enemy combatants.” That’s right: even the Pentagon admits that they pose no threat to the U.S.

The question of where they should be sent upon their release put them in limbo: if they’re returned to China, they’ll likely be persecuted. Political pressure from China has dissuaded Albania, which accepted five Uighurs a few years ago, from accepting any more. In fact, the same pressure — which includes trade sanctions — has scared the rest of the world from accepting them. Since there was no other country willing to accept them, Judge Urbina ordered that they be brought to the U.S., where the Uighur community in Northern Virginia had agreed to help integrate them.

But alas, it doesn’t matter now, because today the D.C. Circuit Court reversed Judge Urbina’s ruling, finding that the judiciary does not have the power to intervene in the matter. Today’s decision (PDF) asserts that the court lacks the authority to order the release of these men inside the United States.

So then what does this decision mean? The Uighurs are not enemy combatants, as the court has already found. They can’t be released to China because they face the threat of persecution, and if no other country will take them, the Uighurs could be held at Gitmo forever.

We can only hope President Obama will see the error of this decision and free the Uighurs immediately. Bringing them to the United States would also set an example for other countries to provide a safe haven for released detainees.

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