WASHINGTON (CNN) - A federal appeals court panel ruled Wednesday that 17 native Chinese Muslims cannot be transferred and released into the United States from American military custody at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.
The three-judge panel concluded by a 2-1 vote there is no legal or constitutional authority for the prisoners to be immediately freed even though they are unlawfully detained, and no countries currently are willing to accept them.
The 17 men are Uighurs, an ethnic group from western China. They are accused of receiving weapons and military training in Afghanistan. Some of the prisoners have been cleared for release since 2003, but the United States will not send them back to their homeland because of concern they would be tortured by Chinese authorities.
The Chinese government has said no returned Uighurs would be tortured.
"We do not know whether all petitioners or any of them would qualify for entry or admission [to the United States] under immigration laws," wrote Judge Raymond Randolph. "We do know there is insufficient evidence to classify them as enemy combatants - enemies that is of the United States. But that hardly qualifies petitioners [the Uighurs] for admission. Nor does their detention at Guantanamo for many years entitle them to enter the United States."
U.S. District Judge Richard Urbina in October ordered the Uighurs released inside the United States since they are no longer considered "enemy combatants." He said further imprisonment "crossed the constitutional threshold into infinitum."
The Bush administration appealed, seeking a quick hearing to block any release, at least temporarily.
Lawyers for the prisoners now have the option of appealing directly to the Supreme Court, but the justices may not take up the matter for months.
Complicating matters in the years-long legal fight is that President Barack Obama has announced plans to close the military prison in Guantanamo.
In the ruling, Randolph noted, "The government has represented that it is continuing diplomatic attempts to find an appropriate country willing to admit
petitioners, and we have no reason to doubt it is doing so. Nor do we have the
power to require anything more."
Judge Judith Rogers agreed with the majority that it would be premature to release the prisoners into the United States before their immigration status
is resolved. But she dissent from the majority opinion, saying if it were later
determined their detention was illegal, the courts "would have the power to
order them conditionally released into the country."
She expressed concern the men have been behind bars for years, and said their detention "appears indefinite."
About 250 prisoners, many of them suspected terrorists, remain in the prison. Approximately two-thirds have appealed their continued imprisonment
and have complained the government is unfairly keeping them from finding out if any evidence exists that could clear them of wrongdoing.
Many fear arrest, physical abuse or persecution if they are sent to their homelands, according the Center for Constitutional Rights, which is representing the Uighurs in court. It said the men pose no terror threat and could be released into the United States and stay with a local Muslim community until their cases were resolved.
Among the lead Uighur plaintiffs is Hazaifa Parhat, accused of attending a terror training camp in Afghanistan at the time of the September 11, 2001, attacks. He denies the charge.
Urbina and Judge Richard Leon, who are handling appeals from Guantanamo prisoners, have grown frustrated in recent months with the continued
detention of some of the men. Leon ordered the release last week of five Algerians accused of being enemy combatants, and urged the government not to
U.S. military hearings known as combatant status review tribunals determine whether a prisoner can be designated an "enemy combatant," and prosecuted by the military. Some legal and military analysts have likened them to civilian grand jury proceedings.
The appeals court case is Kiyemba v. Obama (08-5424).
send them back to where they are from, let their own countries deal with them, how simple is that?
Where are you going to send them, Mr. President? I have some advise. Think things through before you decide to do something. These people are TERRORISTS! They are about as evil as anyone can be. These people have the same mindset as those who masterminded and carried out 9/11. You can't rehabilitate them and you can't change the way they think. Have we all lost our minds?
Americas business leaders should be sent to Gitmo, tortured, lose their U.S. citizenship, and be deported to the middle east.
Trust the President... at least give him a chance. You let bozo Bush have four years.... then you elected him again !! Some of you people are sick and others are just stupid.
Tortured in the USA or China; what's the difference.
Keep up the hate!
PARACHUTE THEM INTO WESTERN CHINA!
Give the prisoners bad names and hang them,or if they are found to have blood on their hands, award them befitting punishments, but please do not release them into the general population.
One of the Muslim countries should accept them.
Why release them at the first place – they are criminals and must be put in maximum security jails.
"The 17 men are Uighurs, an ethnic group from western China."
We Americans are the criminals, not them.
The government is being entirely too queezy about the possible fates of prisoners captured on the battlefield. Their entry into the conflict was their own decision. Whether they volunteered or were "conscripted" is immaterial.
Their future is not the concern of the american people. What happens to them when they are returned to their home countries is not our concern. Return them to China, or to where they are from and close the door on this disastrous event in our history.
Finally, this country should never have brought them into our national control. They should have been incarcerated in Afganistan. They should have been tried by military courts and held until they had served their time, then turned over to the Afgani authorities.
Some may say that the above process would expose them to possibly brutal retribution by their home countries. Well, I say that better that they are brutalized by their own countrymen than us. As far as being prisoners of war, hasn't anyone heard of repatriation? Whether thay return to the battle is unimportant. If they do that, they can be killed just like any other combatant. If they return to the U.S. to attack us, they can be killed in the action or tried and incarcerated in one of our federal prisons for life. At least that solves most of the problems we have imposed upon ourselves by how they have been treated in the past.
They are free men. Let them decide their own fate. They created their own dilemma and now should face up to the consequences. Take China for their word that the men won't be tortured. I don't understand our hypocrisy for not trusting the Chinese Gov't on their word when the previous US Admin. was the one that allowed and condoned torture.