Justice for the Uighurs
Chinese Muslim detainees should be welcomed into the United States.
FOR THE PAST seven years, 17 men have been held at the U.S. Naval Base in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, detainees who the U.S. government acknowledges should never have been there. They are not enemies of the United States or its allies and have not engaged in violence against U.S. or other interests. Yet these men -- ethnic Chinese Muslims known as Uighurs -- continue to be prisoners of years-old mistakes, ancient hostilities and modern-day diplomatic failures.
The United States cannot return the men to China for fear that they will be mistreated or even tortured; the Chinese government considers them part of a terrorist group and has itself detained or abused Uighurs even when there was no evidence that they engaged in violence. The Bush administration tried for years to find the Uighurs a home in a third country, but to no avail; the Chinese government has threatened to retaliate politically against any nation that offers the Uighurs a haven.
Efforts to free the Uighurs through court proceedings have fared no better. Last fall, a D.C. federal judge ordered the United States to release the men into this country, but the order was overturned in February by an appeals court that reached the legally defensible conclusion that the judge overstepped his bounds because only the executive branch and Congress have the right to admit people into the country. This month, lawyers for the Uighurs appealed to the Supreme Court. Even if the court accepts the case, a decision would be unlikely to come until next year. In the meantime, 17 innocent men will continue to be confined on an island naval base ringed by barbed wire.
We have previously urged the administration to accept one or two of the detainees as a show of good faith and in an effort to spur ambivalent allies to take in the others. But the time has come for the United States to accept full responsibility for wrongly holding the
Uighurs and to act boldly to rectify this miscarriage of justice. President Obama should grant asylum to all of the Uighur detainees, subject to confirmation that they have not engaged in any acts of violence. The International Uighur Human Rights and Democracy Foundation, a well-regarded organization based in Washington, has promised to provide housing and other support for the men if they are welcomed into the country.
This may prove a delicate proposition for Mr. Obama. After all, releasing the men to foreign countries is one thing; inviting them to live next door to Americans is quite another. But the risks of allowing the Uighurs into the country are offset by evidence that they never held any animus toward the United States or its citizens and never engaged in acts of violence against the United States or its allies. So concluded the Bush administration, which determined that the men were not enemy combatants. Allowing them into the country would be a small but important step to make up for seven years of unjust and unjustifiable incarceration.