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Gov’t Double Talk Leaves Uighurs in Limbo

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October 24, 2008

There is a lot of last-minute scrambling at Guantánamo in the waning days of the Bush administration. Some of it involves 17 prisoners of Uighur descent. The Uighurs are an ethnic Muslim minority who face persecution at home in the Xianjiang province of China. Although the Department of Defense concedes that these 17 men were never enemies of the United States, it continued to imprison them, holding them in cells 22 hours a day without any natural light, while the U.S. looked for somewhere to send them.

Then, last month, a judge ordered the government to release them into the U.S.

In preparation, a varied coalition of community groups, churches, and mosques helped to organize housing and support in Tampa, Fla. But the government appealed the order and the administration scrambled to find someone else to take them in. But, as the New York Times reported, the government’s efforts have been complicated by the fact that they continue to file documents in court claiming these 17 men are too much of a security risk to be released in the United States (even though it admits the United States has no basis to imprison them). As a result, other governments have balked at helping out. Either the government is being insincere in their diplomatic efforts, claiming these men pose no risk, or insincere in its representations to the courts. But the government can’t have it both ways.

In yet another jaw-dropping move, the Justice Department claimed in its latest filing last Thursday that these men are a risk to the United States because we made them that way. The DOJ filing argued that their prolonged captivity had made the men into a security risk. Yesterday, the Circuit Court delayed the release “pending further review of the court.”

Marty Lederman over at Balkinization does a great job of breaking down the government’s arguments and concludes that they have yet to proffer any evidence that these men pose a risk to the United States.

As the dissenting judge in the Circuit Court decision said, “the government can point to no evidence of dangerousness, and regarding such record as exists in this court the government has not pointed to evidence of such risk. Indeed such record as exists suggests the opposite.”

The continued imprisonment of men the government itself admits are innocent mocks the Constitution and America’s values. It highlights why Guantánamo has become a symbol of arbitrary and lawless behavior throughout the world.

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