The Uighers are a group of Chinese separatists that often resort to violency in their goal of breaking their own traditional ethnicity and freeing it from the rest of China. In GITMO, there are a group of seventeen Uighers. Last year, the Pentagon decided to change their status from "enemy combatant". The reasoning behind this was that the Uighers beef was with China not the U.S. The reasoning was rather dubious. These particular Uighers were picked up in both Afghanistan and Pakistan. Some of them were picked up on the battlefield fighting American forces. Furthermore, these Uighers were known to have attended a terrorist training camp run by East Turkestan Islamic Movement, an Al Qaeda affiliate.
All of this laid the groundwork for what is about to occur. As a result of this determination, Federal Judge Richard Urbina ordered that these Uighers be produced in a Federal Court. They continued held in GITMO while the Bush administration appealed the decision. Then, things got even more dicey. President Obama made one of his first acts as president his intention to close GITMO. In February, a D.C. Circuit Court reversed Urbina's decision. So, as a matter of law, these Uighers could continue to be held in GITMO indefinitely.
From here though, things stop being about a matter of law. The Obama administration is determined to see GITMO close. They are also having all sorts of trouble getting any other nations to take on the prisoners there. The Uighers are actually wanted desperately by their home nation, China. Of course, that's only so they can be summarily tried and killed for crimes against their citizenry. As such, releasing them back to China is not an option. No other nation would ever take on these terrorists. As such, the administration believes that they need to lead by example. In other words, if the U.S. repatriates some GITMO detainees the rest of the world will be more willing to take some on themselves.
The Uighers appears to be the first in line. Last week, the administration leaked that seven of these folks would soon be released into the continental U.S. The administration will do this despite its own internal review of the danger they pose inside the U.S. So, sometime in the next few weeks these seven folks will be released free to roam the U.S. More than that, they will be free and provided welfare by the U.S. government. Worse than this, their release violates the REAL Act of 2005 which forbids anyone tied to a terrorist group from being released into the U.S.
GITMO is one of those issues that receives sporadic attention. The economy is on top of everyone's mind and so GITMO only makes the news when there's news. The release of these seven will be news, and it will again enflame the debate over its closing. The polling is rather overwhelming against both the closing of GITMO and especially against releasing them here. (even more against providing them government welfare) So, you can bet that upon their release, a contentious debate will get started.
There is one other thing that is important in this debate. That is the issue of the prison in Bagram in Afghanistan. That prison has received little media attention. That said, the president has decided that everything that applies to GITMO doesn't apply to Bagram. That will continue to stay open. The folks there won't get access to civilian lawyers. They won't be tried in civilian court, and many won't even be charged. As such, had these same Uighers wound up at Bagram, they would continue to be held incommunicado because President Obama is perfectly happy with that as long as the prisoner is there. One day, some in the press might notice the utter hypocrisy with which President Obama treats GITMO and Bagram.
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