Yesterday a federal judge in Washington, D.C., ordered the release of 17 men, all Uighur Muslims from China, who have been held at Guantanamo Bay for six years as "enemy combatants." The Pentagon has given up trying to justify that classification but still does not want to let the men go. It says the detainees, who were captured in Afghanistan, cannot be returned to China because they would be persecuted there, and no other country is willing to take them. U.S. District Judge Richard Urbina says they therefore should be freed to live in the United States, where supporters have arranged lodging in Washington and Tallahassee, Florida. The Justice Department says Urbina, who was responding to a habeas corpus lawsuit, does not have the authority to issue such an order, since the executive branch is in charge of immigration matters. If the Uighurs are brought to the U.S., it warns, they could be detained again, this time by the Department of Homeland Security.
I discussed the Uighurs' predicament in a 2006 column.