October 2, 2008 7:28 PM
Chinese Muslims No Longer Considered Enemy Combatants
Posted by David Bario
The filing of a short notice in federal court late on Tuesday was an admission by the Bush administration that the Chinese Muslim Uighurs currently detained at Guantanamo Bay no longer are considered enemy combatants but are being held only until another country will agree to take them in.
The notice (available below for download), filed in U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia, came in response to an August court order requiring the administration to clarify the detainees' status or to provide a factual basis for their continued detention as combatants. The statement came just a week before an October 7 hearing with U.S. District Court Judge Ricardo Urbina to consider motions for the Uighurs' immediate release.
Lawyers for the Uighurs intend to argue that their clients should be paroled into the United States pending resolution of their habeas cases. "Given that these men have never been charged with any crime, and they are not enemy combatants, there is simply no reason for their continued confinement," says Bingham McCutchen's P. Sabin Willett, one of the Uighurs' lawyers. (The American Lawyer detailed Willet's work on the Uighurs case in the July 2008 issue.)
Twenty-three Uighurs--members of an ethnic group that dominates China's desert northwest--were captured in the border region between Pakistan and Afghanistan and detained by U.S. authorities at Guantanamo in 2002. In 2005, lawyers representing the Uighurs discovered that five of them had been labeled "no longer enemy combatants" by the Pentagon. On the eve of oral arguments over their status in May 2006, the government flew the five men to Albania and released them there. A sixth Uighur with ties to Saudi Arabia was released to that country in 2006.
In its June 20 decision in Parhat v. Gates, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit ruled that one of the remaining Uighurs, Huzaifa Parhat, was improperly designated an enemy combatant and ordered the government to release him, transfer him, or hold a new military hearing on his status as a combatant. In August, the district court ruled effectively that the Parhat decision held for four additional Uighurs. With the notice that the administration filed on Tuesday, all 17 of the Uighurs at Guantanamo have now shed their enemy combatant status. According to lawyers for the Uighurs, they are the only detainees currently at Guantanamo who are not considered enemy combatants.
In response to the notice filed by the government on Tuesday, the Uighurs' lawyers filed a memorandum protesting that six of them were still being held in solitary confinement at Guantanamo's Camp Six, under what they described as "a regimen of astonishing psychological cruelty." Willett says he received word yesterday at 6 o'clock p.m. that the detainees had been transferred to a lower security facility at Guantanamo. "We're obviously gratified that they're out today," he says.Make a comment