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Debate in the US over Muslims from Chinese Uighurs

The Guantanamo Bay prisoners and their detention is probably one of the most legally debated issues in the United States. Ever since the US action in Afghanistan in 2001, and the detention of terrorists and others from there, there has been a raging debate over their treatment. On the one hand there is the need to prevent the release of people (some of the detainees) who everybody knows are hard-core terrorists, who if released would go back to taking part in active operations against the United States and other countries. On the other hand, there is the need to ensure that all the detainees get their rights to a free trial, which is a due process of law, something that is a hallmark of a civilized society. There is no doubt that there will be some detainees who are innocent, or have committed minor crimes, and yet have been locked away for 7 years now.
The case of the 17 Uighur Muslims from China’s Xinjiang suddenly jumped into the limelight this week when a single judge ordered that they be released and brought into the United States. Now, these are detainees whom the Administration is quite clearly not going to file a case against, and who if returned back to China will almost certainly land them in clear trouble.

The United States has sent detainees back to different countries for legal processes in their countries, but given the history of China’s efforts against separatism in its Xinjiang province, there is a huge amount of belief that these detainees will be tortured if they are sent to China.

A federal appeals court on Wednesday temporarily blocked a judge’s decision to immediately free 17 Chinese Muslims at Guantanamo Bay into the U.S. In a one-page order, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit issued the emergency stay at the request of the Bush administration. The three-judge panel said it would postpone release of the detainees for at least another week to give the government more time to make arguments in the case. The appeals court set a deadline of next Thursday for additional filings but it is up to the judges to decide how quickly to act afterward.
Meanwhile, the Bush administration said it was continuing “heightened” efforts to find another country to accept the Uighurs, since the detainees might be tortured if they are turned over to China. “There are extensive efforts. We oppose the idea of their release here,” White House spokesman Tony Fratto said. The Justice Department criticized Urbina’s decision as undercutting immigration laws that dictate how foreigners should be brought into the country. It also cited security concerns over weapons training the Uighurs received at camps in Afghanistan. Such a potential security risk outweighs the inconvenience the detainees might suffer in waiting a while longer at Guantanamo, government lawyers contended.

In effect, since the detainees are not being accepted by any other country, and will not be sent to China, they have remained in prison for the last 4 years (after a determination that they can be released). The United States is also not willing to let them come into the country (from Guantanamo Bay where they are currently houses). A mighty complex issue.

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