WASHINGTON (CN) – A federal judge ordered the Bush administration to release 17 Uighur Chinese detainees at Guantanamo Bay by the end of the week, after the U.S. government determined they are no longer “enemy combatants.”
“I think the moment has arrived for the court to shine the light of constitutionality on the reasons for detention,” said Judge Ricardo Urbina of the Federal District Court.
The judge rejected the Bush administration’s claim that U.S. courts lacked the power to set the men free.
In 2005, a group of current and former Uighur detainees petitioned the government for habeas relief on behalf of other Guantanamo detainees. At the time, Gitmo held 22 Uighurs, a Turkic Muslim minority group that’s been brutally oppressed by the communist Chinese government. Press releases indicated that about a dozen of them were no longer considered enemy combatants or a threat to national security, according to the habeas petition.
The Uighurs said they ended up in U.S. custody after fleeing Afghanistan into Pakistan in 2001 with other refugees. They were allegedly taken in by a local tribe that handed them over to Pakistani authorities, who passed them off to the U.S. military for a $5,000 bounty each.
“The United States has not shown that Petitioners were members of the Taliban, of the armed forces of Afghanistan, or of al-Qaida prior to their detention,” the Uighurs claimed in their petition. “Nor has it shown that Petitioners committed any violent acts against any American person or property.”
They accused the Bush administration of trampling their due-process rights by detaining them indefinitely.
The government asked the judge to dismiss the case for lack of “next friend” standing, or to stay the case pending resolution of all appeals in similar Guantanamo detainee cases.
U.S. District Judge Ricardo Urbina reversed dismissal of several Gitmo habeas petitions in October 2007, agreeing to freeze them until the U.S. Supreme Court outlined detainees’ rights.
In June 2008, the Supreme Court extended habeas rights to suspected terrorists in Boumediene v. Bush.
Under this new authority, Judge Urbina ordered that the 17 men be brought to his courtroom from the U.S. naval base at Guantanamo, where 255 men are now held. Urbina said the petitioners have never fought the U.S. government and do not pose a security threat.