Tuesday, February 24, 2009

An Obvious Answer

On occasion, the editorial board of the Los Angeles Times gets it right, and yesterday was one of those occasions. It called for President Obama to cut through the legal entanglements tying the Uighurs being held wrongfully in Guantanamo Bay to their cells by granting them political asylum in the US.

I posted back in October (here and here) on the plight of these men who were snatched up in Afghanistan where they had gone for training in the use of arms. It quickly became clear even to the CIA and Pentagon that these men were not enemy combatants, but once they landed in Guantanamo Bay, they were stuck there, presumably forever.

Their cases were among the first to be heard by the District Court of Appeals after the US Supreme Court ruled that the detainees were entitled to habeas corpus hearings. The trial judge granted their writ and ordered them released, but the Bush administration promptly filed for a stay while they appealed the order. Recently, a three-judge panel ruled that the trial judge did not have the legal authority to order the release (which, in my opinion, is as strained a ruling as I've seen in a good while), so the Uighurs are once again sitting in their cells.

Here is what the LAT editorial had to say:

The detainees are Uighurs, a minority of Turkic origin living in western China. They were taken to Guantanamo in 2002 after being captured in Pakistan, where they had relocated after receiving firearms training in Afghanistan related, they said, to their resistance to Chinese oppression. Once it was clear that their continued imprisonment was unnecessary, the Bush administration tried to persuade some nation other than China -- where they might have faced persecution -- to accept them, but that task was complicated by the reluctance of several countries to alienate Beijing. Meanwhile, the Uighurs languish in what passes for luxury accommodations at Guantanamo.

A federal judge ruled in October that, given the government's failure to relocate them, the Uighurs must be released and allowed to remain in the United States. The government appealed the decision to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit, and last week the court decided that the judiciary couldn't approve the release because immigration decisions are the preserve of Congress and the president. Sympathy for the Uighurs' long confinement, Senior Judge Arthur Raymond Randolph wrote for the three-judge panel, isn't "a legal basis for upsetting settled law and overriding the prerogatives of the political branches." ...

...even under the appeals court decision, there is a way to redress this injustice. President Obama, who has been adamant about ending abuses at Guantanamo, can order Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano and Atty. Gen. Eric H. Holder Jr. to grant political asylum to the 17 Uighur detainees. That would accomplish what the appeals court refused to order: just compensation for their ordeal.

The suggested response is the right one and circumvents all of the nonsense of further appeals and delays. At the initial hearing, it was made clear that there were American sponsors to take in all of these men, so it isn't like they would be simply cut loose in a country far from their own where they faced persecution and so could not return.

Please email President Obama and urge him to make this simple humanitarian gesture. He promised he would close the Guantanamo Prison camp. Removing 19 prisoners from it would make keeping that promise just that much easier. It also would be the right thing to do.

Oh, and Los Angeles Times, nicely done.



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