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24-11-08, 12:09
Court mulls early release of Uighurs from Gitmo

By HOPE YEN
The Associated Press
Monday, November 24, 2008; 11:38 AM

WASHINGTON -- A federal appeals court expressed skepticism Monday about a judge's order releasing 17 Turkic Muslims from Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, into the United States.

During oral arguments, a three-judge panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit indicated that a federal judge might have acted too quickly last month in ordering the immediate release of the 17 men, known as Uighurs (WEE'-gurz).

The three judges suggested that the detainees might need to formally apply to enter the country via the Homeland Security Department, which administers U.S. immigration laws.

"Before they can be admitted into this country, there are immigration statutes to be addressed and petitioners haven't pursued that yet," said Judge Judith W. Rogers, who previously expressed support for the Uighurs' immediate release.

Solicitor General Gregory Garre told the court that releasing the detainees into the U.S. was a matter for the president _ not the courts _ given questions of national security and diplomacy.

The Muslims were cleared for release from Guantanamo as early as 2003 but fear they will be tortured if they are returned to China.


"It's regrettable they are in this situation, but we are active in seeking another country to take them," Garre said.

At issue in Monday's arguments is whether a federal judge has the authority to order the release of prisoners at Guantanamo who were unlawfully detained by the U.S. and cannot be sent back to their homeland.

U.S. District Judge Richard Urbina last month ordered the government to release the 17 men into the United States, noting that they were no longer considered enemy combatants.

Urbina sternly rebuked the Bush administration for a detention policy toward the Uighurs that "crossed the constitutional threshold into infinitum."

The Bush administration quickly sued to block Urbina's order, citing security concerns over weapons training the Uighurs received at camps in Afghanistan.

A divided D.C. Circuit court in late October agreed to temporarily halt the Uighurs' release so it could consider the government's full appeal.