View Full Version : Row breaks out between US and China over Guantanamo detainees

12-05-06, 12:13
The World Today - Wednesday, 10 May , 2006 12:30:00

Reporter: Michael Rowland

ELEANOR HALL: As Australian terrorism suspect David Hicks waits to learn his fate, the Bush administration's release of five other detainees from the US facility at Guantanamo Bay has sparked an international incident.

After keeping five Chinese Muslims in limbo in detention for years, the Bush administration has now allowed them to seek asylum in Albania, saying it was concerned they may be tortured if they were returned to China.

This has sparked a furious reaction from the Chinese Government, which says the men are terrorists not refugees, and is demanding that they be put on a plane to Beijing.

This report from North America Correspondent Michael Rowland.

MICHAEL ROWLAND: The five Chinese Muslims were picked up during the US invasion of Afghanistan in late 2001.

They said they were heading to Turkey for work, but the Uyghurs quickly found themselves on a US military plane bound for Guantanamo Bay.

The US initially believed the men were on their way to Afghanistan for terrorist training, as part of their separatist campaign against China.

But a year ago the US determined they weren't so-called "enemy combatants" and were eligible for release.

The big problem was America didn't want to send the Uyghurs back to China, fearing they'd be persecuted. And the Bush administration could find no other country that would accept the men.

All that changed late last week when Albania agreed to take them in.

The US described the move as an important humanitarian gesture, but the Chinese Government is distinctly unimpressed.

(Sound of Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman speaking)

"The five people accepted by Albania are by no means refugees but terrorist suspects with a close relationship with al-Qaeda," says this Foreign Ministry spokesman in Beijing.

"We have launched solemn representations for the US and Albania. We think they should be repatriated to China as soon as possible."

Ben Carrdus of the Uyghur American Association says the men would face a terrible fate if this was to happen.

BEN CARRDUS: From being sent back to being executed, there's nothing, nothing in the process would resemble anything like a fair trial by any standard.

It's Very likely that the police would have been there during interrogations - I mean, obviously the police were there during interrogations - no legal presence during interrogations. That's when torture very often happens. So any confessions, any evidence like that, is very likely extorted through torture.

I mean this is all documented extremely thoroughly by people like Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International. It's not to say it's dead certain that it would happen, but it is likely.

MICHAEL ROWLAND: The plight of the Chinese Muslims underscores a growing dilemma facing the Bush administration: just what to do with the hundreds of Guantanamo Bay detainees who are deemed not to be a long-term security threat.

The US would like to transfer the detainees to their home countries, but negotiations are proving to be difficult.

Defence Secretary Donald Rumsfeld.

DONALD RUMSFELD: And the problem is that we've been working very hard in an interagency environment to live with the rules and regulations as they exist to try to persuade other countries to accept the detainees currently in Guantanamo, and take them to their countries, and treat them in a humane manner and see that they're tried as appropriate.

MICHAEL ROWLAND: Mr Rumsfeld is also growing increasingly frustrated with the legal challenges to the validity of the military commissions set up to try terror suspects.

A key Supreme Court decision on the issue isn't expected until the end of next month.

DONALD RUMSFELD: Regrettably, the court system in the United States has been used very skilfully by defence lawyers to the point where we have not been able to have military commissions try these people.

So it's a catch-22 kind of a situation at the present time.

But there's certainly no one in the Department of Defence who wants to get up in the morning and be the manager of detention facilities for people from other countries.

And they would like to see the process finally cleared away so that military commissions could go forward.

MICHAEL ROWLAND: The Supreme Court ruling will determine whether
Australian detainee David Hicks faces a military hearing, more than four years after arriving at Guantanamo Bay.

Hicks is also hoping his successful bid to become a British citizen will expedite his departure from the detention centre.

But it remains to be seen when or if the US Government will allow UK consular officials into the camp to get the citizenship process underway.

In Washington, this is Michael Rowland reporting for The World Today.