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Boston Globe
13-12-05, 09:14
Judge nears decision on fate of 15 Guantanamo detainees
Military tribunal ordered release of Chinese Muslims

By Charlie Savage, Globe Staff | December 13, 2005

WASHINGTON -- A federal judge yesterday said he will decide in the next two weeks whether to issue an order that could bring two cleared-but-stranded Guantanamo detainees to his courtroom in the nation's capital as a first step toward possibly releasing them into the United States.

US District Court Judge James Robertson said that the Bush administration had run out of time to find some other country willing to take in 15 Chinese Muslims, known as Uighurs, who were arrested during the Afghanistan war.

A military tribunal later decided that the Uighurs were not enemy combatants after all. They had just been in the wrong place at the wrong time. The tribunal ordered them released from Guantanamo.

But because China has a history of persecuting Uighurs, US law prevents the Bush administration from sending them to China, and no other country wants them. Their imprisonment at the hands of the US military has now entered its fifth year.

In July, the Uighurs's attorney, Boston-based Sabin Willett, asked Robertson to order the military to release his clients from the prison. Willett suggested either letting them live in a hotel among the civilian population of the base or allowing them to live in the United States in the care of a small Uighur-American community.

The Bush administration opposed both requests, questioning Robertson's legal authority to intervene. But after five months with no diplomatic breakthrough, Robertson said he has waited long enough.

''The question is whether I or anybody should tolerate that situation, and if it is intolerable, what I or or anybody else should do about it," Robertson said. ''From the standpoint of the petitioners at Guantanamo, it clearly is intolerable."

Robertson also said that he may order the Uighurs released temporarily in the US without being legally admitted for immigration or asylum purposes.

Any ruling against the military would mark the first time that a court has ordered an inmate released from the Guantanamo prison despite more than 150 lawsuits filed on behalf of prisoners. The military is holding about 500 suspected Taliban and Al Qaeda members at the base.

Congress is considering stripping courts of jurisdiction to hear most Guantanamo lawsuits, including the Uighurs's.

The bill's sponsor, Senator Lindsey Graham, Republican of South Carolina, argues that detainees are clogging courts with frivilous claims.

http://www.boston.com/news/world/latinamerica/articles/2005/12/13/judge_nears_decision_on_fate_of_15_guantanamo_deta inees/