Court to Guantanamo Uighurs: Accept Resettlement or Stay in Prison

Article excerpt

The five remaining Uighur detainees at the Guantanamo Bay prison camp have turned down resettlement offers from other countries, and have been appealing for release into the US.

A federal appeals court in Washington delivered a terse message on Friday to five Chinese ethnic Uighurs long held at the terror prison camp at Guantanamo Bay: Accept the US offer to resettle in a third country or stay at Guantanamo.

In a five-page ruling, the appeals court panel said that each of the five Uighur detainees had received and rejected three offers of resettlement from countries the government had deemed appropriate. Instead, the detainees pursued litigation seeking their transfer to the United States.

A federal judge had earlier ruled that the Uighurs could not be lawfully held at Guantanamo as enemy combatants. When government efforts to find suitable countries for resettlement bogged down, the judge ordered the government to bring the Uighurs to the United States, pending their resettlement.

The government responded by appealing that decision and by continuing efforts to find third countries willing to take in the Uighurs. Twelve of the original 17 Uighurs have been resettled. Lawyers for the remaining five were hoping the courts would intervene on behalf of their clients who have spent nearly a decade at Guantanamo.

Last fall, the Supreme Court agreed to take up the Uighurs' case to examine whether a federal judge has the power to order the government to bring Guantanamo detainees to the US as a temporary remedy for their illegal detention at the terror prison camp.

In the meantime, the US government stepped up efforts to resettle the men. As oral argument at the Supreme Court approached, the government informed the justices of substantial progress on the resettlement front. Rather than hear the case, the high court vacated an earlier ruling and sent the issue back to the federal appeals court to consider in light of "new developments."

Those new developments involved the fact that all of the Uighurs had been offered resettlement opportunities outside Guantanamo.

As Judge Judith Rogers said in a concurring opinion on Friday: "Petitioners hold the keys to their release from Guantanamo: All they must do is register their consent. …

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