Tuesday, October 07, 2008

Freedom for 17 Uyghurs in Gitmo? Unlikely

Today, U.S. District Court judge Ricardo Urbina (a Clinton appointee) granted the habeas petitions of the 17 innocent Uyghurs who have been held in Guantanamo Bay for seven years.

The lucky(?) 5 in Albania

Immediately after U.S. airstrikes on Afghanistan after 9/11, 22 Uyghurs in Afghanistan and along the Pakistan border were rounded up by bounty hunters and handed to the Americans. These "enemy combatants" were sent to Gitmo, where they were interrogated by U.S. and Red Chinese officials. In exchange for China's support (or non-opposition) for the U.S. invasion of Iraq, the U.S. declared the E.T.I.M. (East Turkestan Independence Movement) a terrorist group. There is a question as to whether this group exists at all. Coincidentally, China accuses all 22 Uyghurs in detention as E.T.I.M. members.

In 2004, after years of mistreatment, the U.S. cleared all of the Uyghur detainees. However, the U.S. had a dilemma. If the Uyghurs were repatriated to China, they would be immediately detained and probably shot. But with the economic clout that China has, virtually no other country in the world would take them as refugees. (The U.S. asked over 100 countries.) Generous (and brave) Albania said yes and took five in. China was pissed.

The 17 that remained finally got their chance to apply for habeas-- for freedom. The federal judge granted them freedom and ordered the U.S. government to bring the 17 before him in Washington, D.C. on Friday. It is far from certain if the government will comply. An immediate appeal is likely.

Although the decision today is positive, this is by no means over. Look for China to immediately protest the decision and demand that all 17 Uyghurs be sent back to China. With the U.S. owing China $1.5 trillion, we're not exactly in a position to call the shots. At the very least, the U.S. government will, despite the judge's order today, continue holding the Gitmo 17.


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