Thursday, June 04, 2009

Canada won't accept Uighur Gitmo detainees

Canada won't accept Uighur Gitmo detainees


Two Uighur detainees at Guantanamo hold the prison camp's first self-styled public protest for visiting journalists on June 1, 2009, in this photo cleared for release by the U.S. Department of Defense.

Jun 04, 2009 08:20 PM
michelle shephard
National Security Reporter

Canada has refused a request from the Obama administration to provide a home for a group of Chinese Uighur detainees imprisoned at Guantanamo Bay.

The 17 Uighur captives have been cleared for release by U.S. courts but are stuck at the offshore prison until Washington finds a country willing to provide asylum.

A spokesperson for Prime Minister Stephen Harper said that inquiries made in the last couple weeks concerning the Uighurs were rebuffed.

"There are security concerns related to Guantanamo detainees," Kory Teneycke said in an interview Thursday night.

"There really is no rationale for accepting them into the country."

Two of the Uighur detainees who have been held for more than seven years managed to stage Guantanamo's first public protest Monday, causing a stir in Washington.

The captives held up messages written in crayon on prison-issued sketch pads before a small group of visiting journalists, including a Toronto Star reporter.

"We need to freedom (sic)," said one page.

The Pentagon prohibits journalists from speaking to detainees and stopped the release of journalists' images until obtaining White House approval Tuesday morning.

President Barack Obama has vowed to close Guantanamo's prison by the end of January and the Uighur cases present some of the legal and diplomatic challenges his administration faces in dealing with the remaining 240 detainees.

Making a high-profile appeal to European nations in April, Attorney General Eric Holder encouraged all nations to make sacrifices and unpopular choices to help close Guantanamo Bay. "Not out of a sense of responsibility, but from a commitment to work with one of its oldest allies to confront one of the world's most pressing challenges," he said in Berlin.

Only two detainees have been released since Obama took power in January and the administration has refused to settle any prisoners in the U.S.

"People initially, when the president took office, had hoped that President Obama would have better relationships with other countries and be able to curry favour in terms of dealing with the release of detainees," said Alexander Abdo, a lawyer with ACLU's National Security Project.

"It seems increasingly unlikely, if he's not able to make concessions in some of the easier cases, it will become more and more difficult."

The sole Western detainee remaining in Guantanamo is Omar Khadr. Now 22, the Toronto-born captive was shot and detained as a 15-year-old by U.S. Special Forces in Afghanistan. He is charged with five war crimes including murder for allegedly throwing a grenade that fatally wounded U.S. soldier Christopher Speer.

The Uighur detainees were captured in Afghanistan in 2001, but have been cleared for release since 2004. Albania accepted five of the men in 2006 but no other country has since offered to provide refuge.

China has requested their return but the U.S. will not return them due to fears of torture. Many Muslim Uighurs from China's Xinjiang province want autonomy for the region and Beijing has waged a campaign against their separatist activities.

A U.S. federal judge ordered that the Uighurs be given sanctuary in the U.S. because the Pentagon no longer considered them enemy combatants. The Bush administration appealed the ruling, which was overturned. Last week, the Obama administration argued in a filing to the Supreme Court that the ruling blocking the Uighurs' entry to the U.S. should be upheld.

China warned in February that any country that accepted Uighur detainees would be harbouring terrorists.

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