August 27, 2005
Officials at the United States detention facility in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, have moved five ethnic Uighurs into a less restrictive area of the prison while Washington tries to find a way to free the Chinese separatists in a third country.
The Uighurs are part of a group of 15 who have been held in Guantanamo Bay for three years but have been found to pose no threat to the US or its allies.
Last week they were transferred from cells to an area known as Camp Iguana, where they have use of an entertainment room, kitchen and an outdoor recreational area, US lawyers told a federal court judge in Washington.
But they are still surrounded by a fence and have minimal outside contact, with no end in sight to their legal limbo.
Though five have been found not to be enemy combatants and all 15 have been cleared for release from Guantanamo Bay, the US has found no country to accept the Uighurs - Muslims seeking their own homeland on territory that is part of northwestern China. The US will not return them to China for fear the government would persecute or torture them.
American authorities have asked without success nearly two dozen other nations to provide refuge - in part because other nations do not want to anger Beijing. Meanwhile, the US government and lawyers for two of the Uighurs are trying to work out ways to grant the detainees greater freedoms at Guantanamo Bay.
US District Judge James Robertson said that he would like more time to consider the issue. He seemed pleased that the Uighurs, as well as about five other unidentified detainees, had been moved to better living quarters while they await their release.
The lawyers for the two Uighurs - Abu Bakker Qassim and Adel Abdu Hakim, who also represent seven other members of the group - argued that the Bush administration should allow the Uighurs to go to the US as political asylum-seekers and grant them a loosely defined ``parole' status.
Two Washington-area Uighurs have volunteered to house the men. Lawyer Sabin Willett argued in the US District Court in Washington that the Uighurs could be trapped in Guantanamo Bay indefinitely.
Willett said the move to better quarters in the military prison amounted to ``fluffing the pillows' instead of granting the men their freedom.
Terry Henry, a Department of Justice attorney, said one of the Uighur detainees was able to speak to his sister in Sweden for 90 minutes - a privilege afforded only one other detainee at Guantanamo Bay.
But Henry said the Uighurs should be held until arrangements can be made for them and that they should not be released in the US, even with parole status.
THE WASHINGTON POST