In a dramatic setback for the Bush administration, a federal judge ordered the U.S. government Tuesday to immediately transfer to the U.S. and release 17 Chinese-born Muslims detained for seven years at Guantanamo.
Reading his decision from the bench, Judge Ricardo Urbina declared the continued detention of the group from the ethnic Uighur minority to be “unlawful” and ordered the government to transfer the detainees to the U.S. by Friday.
The decision marked the first time a court has ordered the release of Guantanamo detainees into the U.S.
Dozens of members of a Uighur-American organization attending the hearing reacted to his words with applause.
“The American system has given us justice,” said Rebia Kadeer, president of the World Uighur Congress.
While I am relieved that the Uighur prisoners have finally been released, I have little confidence that the Bush admin will, for once, heed Judge Urbina’s warning “not to attempt to circumvent [the Uighur's] release once they arrive in the U.S. by detaining them on immigration holds.” Using the past 8 long years as a benchmark, it seems the one thing you can always count on from the Bush/Cheney White House is a demonstrative, at times spiteful, contempt for the rule of law. According to a Bloomberg News report on the ruling, the Bush admin claimed “it has wartime authority to hold the men indefinitely even if they aren’t enemy combatants [emph. mine].”
Indeed, as noted by Matt Corley of Think Progress, “NBC News Justice Correspondent Pete Williams reports that the Bush administration doesn’t want the detainees coming to the U.S. because “that sets a legal precedent.””
[T]his is a big deal because for the first time in the six plus years that Guantanamo Bay has been a detainee center for enemy combatants picked up overseas a federal judge has ordered that some of them should be released and released into the U.S., a step that the Justice Department and the Bush administration have continually opposed.
And you know, that does raise a larger question about Guantanamo Bay because as the U.S. tries to get other countries around the world to accept some of the detainees that the U.S. itself believes should no longer be held there. Many of those countries are saying, “hey, you set up Guantanamo Bay, you, you know, you should take some of them too.” So this is a very key issue in the history of Guantanamo Bay.
According to Bloomberg News, there are “an estimated 225 detainees still at Guantanamo Bay,” none of whom, it’s safe to say, the Bush admin would want seeking sanctuary in the US (and, potentially, speaking to US media outlets about what happened to them during their Gitmo tenure.) I find it hard to imagine we’ll see a humble concession to this court-ordered check on executive authority, based on, as skdadl puts it, “the continuing perversity of the Bush administration in its insistence before the courts that the president’s political decisions about justice trump the powers of the judiciary”. Still, one can’t help but hope that, finally, some small inkling of justice has been achieved for these 17 victims of imperial hubris and willful indifference.
Related: Background on the illegally detained Uighur prisoners from Hilzoy, The Washington Post (h/t skdadl), Joanne Mariner of Human Rights Watch, David Bario, and Justin Rood, who cites a Justice Department report (PDF) that claims “U.S. military personnel at Guantanamo Bay allegedly softened up [the] detainees at the request of Chinese intelligence officials who had come to the island facility to interrogate the men — or they allowed the Chinese to dole out the treatment themselves”. The Center for Constitutional Rights has more on foreign interrogators at Guantanamo.
Also see this recent HRW report on remaining Guantanamo prisoners, Locked up Alone: Detention Conditions and Mental Health at Guantanamo.