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Reuters
23-12-05, 08:56
Judge says he can't free Uighurs at Guantanamo
Fri Dec 23, 2005 1:23 AM ET

By JoAnne Allen

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - A federal judge on Thursday ruled that he does not have authority to order the release of two ethnic Uighur prisoners from China detained at Guantanamo Bay, even though the U.S. military declared they are no longer "enemy combatants."

U.S. District Judge James Robertson said he finds that "a federal court has no relief to offer" Abu Bakker Qassim and A'del Abdu Al-Hakim, who are being held at the U.S. military prison in Cuba while the United States searches for a country to take them in.

"An order requiring their release into the United States, even into some kind of parole 'bubble,' some legal-fictional status in which they would be here but would not be 'admitted,' would have national security and diplomatic implications beyond the competence or the authority of this court," Robertson said in a 12-page ruling.

The two men have been detained since June 2002 at Guantanamo Bay, where the United States hold suspects in its war against terrorism launched after the attacks of September 11, 2001. A U.S. military tribunal ruled nine months ago that the Uighurs should "no longer be classified as enemy combatants."

A lawyer working with the New York-based Center for Constitutional Rights had urged Robertson to order the men released while the government continues its search for a country that will grant them asylum.

The U.S. government told the court it could not return the men to China because they would face persecution there.

Many Muslim Uighurs, who are from Xinjiang in far western China, seek greater autonomy for the region and some want independence. Beijing has waged a relentless campaign against what it calls the violent separatist activities of the Uighurs in the desert region.

Terry Henry, a U.S. Justice Department lawyer, said at an August hearing that the United States would hold the Uighurs at Guantanamo "for as long as it takes."

Henry said the two men had been transferred to a section where they were allowed more freedom of movement and more facilities than at Camp Echo, where they were previously detained.

The United States is holding about 500 foreign prisoners at the U.S. Naval Base at Guantanamo.