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Free the Uighurs

Yesterday, the Washington Post reported that a federal judge is considering the fate of a small group of Uighurs, Chinese Muslims, held at Guantanamo Bay. In June, the Federal Court of Appeals in Washington ruled that Huzaifa Parhat, one of them, was not an enemy combatant and had to be released, transferred, or given a new hearing. The government chose not to retry him and subsequently announced that sixteen other Uighurs at Gitmo were also innocent of crimes against the United States.

The Uighurs at Gitmo were captured in Afghanistan or Pakistan after fleeing China. Beijing suppresses religion throughout the country, but its acts are particularly brutal in the Uighur homeland in the northwest. Uighurs, consequently, have taken refuge throughout central Asia. The U.S. has linked the 17 Uighurs to a separatist group, the East Turkistan Islamic Movement, that it has designated a terrorist organization. The designation, made at the behest of Beijing, has been subject to criticism here and abroad as factually incorrect. “East Turkistan” is the name the Uighurs use for their homeland in China.

The Bush administration, to its credit, has not returned the Gitmo Uighurs to China, which wants them back so it can imprison and torture them. In 2006, the U.S. released five Uighurs for resettlement in Albania, the only nation that risked angering Beijing by taking them in.

The United States, at a minimum, should not be indefinitely holding innocent people in prison. If no other nation will take the Uighurs, the Bush administration has an obligation to give them residency in America. They have been detained for up to seven years for no crime against the United States. It’s time to set them free. As one of their lawyers told the Washington Post, “You can’t hold people just because it’s politically expedient.”


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