Muslim Uighurs in Guantanamo

In Civil Liberties, Guantanamo Bay on April 1, 2009 at 8:53 am

A New York Times report on the status of the Uighur Chinese minority in Guantanamo:  after Bush decided they were not enemy combatants after all, they stay in Guantanamo with no country willing to take them:

The Uighurs have become something of a Guantánamo Rorschach test: hapless refugees to some, dangerous plotters to others. For the Obama administration, the task of determining which of those portraits is correct and whether the men can be released inside the United States has raised the stakes for the president’s plan to close the Guantánamo prison. Either choice is likely to provoke intense reaction.

The dilemma has taken on new urgency because the plan to close the prison depends on other countries’ accepting some of the remaining 241 detainees Diplomats say that with President Obama embarking on Tuesday on a European trip, the effort could falter unless this country signals it is willing to take some of the Guantánamo prisoners.

At home, though, Mr. Obama faces the prospect of a storm of protest from some quarters if he admits detainees the Bush administration labeled terrorists and barred from this country. Already, word of the men’s possible release has brought denunciations and anxiety from military groups, families of Sept. 11 victims and political figures.

“I don’t think people want people that could potentially be terrorists in the United States,” said Representative J. Randy Forbes, Republican of Virginia.

There were signs on Tuesday that the decision-making process was accelerating. Administration officials were in Guantánamo interviewing the 17 men to assess their suitability for release, perhaps in the United States, one official said.

But a detailed review of thousands of pages of documents suggests that definitive answers about who the 17 Uighurs really are will be hard to find. The public record, including intelligence and other materials from court cases and military hearings, often presents a hazy picture.

The men ended up in American hands in Afghanistan and Pakistan in 2001 and 2002, in some cases after the payment of bounties. Their life stories are inexact: hat maker, shoe repairman, typist in the Uighurs’ Turkic language. The evidence against them has been declared dubious by federal courts. But former Bush administration officials said in interviews that there had been no serious effort to clear up the mysteries.

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