Uighurs held at Guantanamo plead to Obama for release
A group of the 13 Chinese detainees held at the controversial U.S. prison at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba appealed directly to President Barack Obama for their immediate release, arguing that they have been cleared by the United States of any wrongdoing and they questioned why it was taking so long to go free.
The members of the Uighur ethnic group originally sent the appeal to Obama on March 8 but it was not cleared by the U.S. government for release until July 14, according to their attorneys. Two of the signatories have since been released to Bermuda, the lawyers said.
“After 6 years of investigations, the US military confirmed that we are innocent,” the Uighurs said in their letter. “We are innocent civilians, however, we are currently still being held in jail.”
In June four Uighurs were transferred from the Guantanamo prison to the Atlantic island of Bermuda. The entire group, who come from China’s largely Muslim far-west region of Xinjiang, were captured by the U.S. government during fighting in Afghanistan after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks in Washington and New York.
There has been some talk that the remaining 13 Uighurs held at Guantanamo Bay could go to the tropical Pacific island of Palau, where the government has agreed to take them temporarily as a humanitarian gesture. China has demanded that they all be returned to Chinese soil but the United States has said it could not return them because they would face persecution.
“The State Department, in coordination with the Defense Department and other interested agencies, is working to make appropriate arrangements to carry out transfers of these individuals in a manner consistent with national security and foreign policy interests of the United States, as well as U.S. policies concerning humane treatment,” said Justice Department spokesman Dean Boyd.
Obama has vowed to close Guantanamo prison by January 2010 and his administration has been trying to find places to send those detainees who have been cleared for transfer. But they have run into trouble finding countries willing to take former prisoners, particularly if the United States does not accept some of them as well.
“We do not believe that there is no country out there that would give us political asylum,” the letter said. “We do not believe that the U.S. government cannot find a solution for the Uighur issue here.”
– Photo credit: Reuters/Brennan Linsley