US Supreme Court faces call to release Guantanamo Uyghursc

(When originally published, this press release inaccurately stated that Judge Robertson ruled in December 2005 that Abu Bakker Qassim and Adel Abdu’ Al-Hakim should be released. In fact, he ruled only that their continued detention was unlawful. UAA apologies for this error.)

(Washington, DC March 23, 2006, 08:00 EST) An ‘amicus brief’ will be filed today (March 23 2006) in the United States Supreme Court in Washington, DC on behalf of the Uyghur American Association (UAA), arguing for the release of two Uyghurs still detained in Guantanamo Bay.

Abu Bakker Qassim and Adel Abdu’ Al-Hakim were declared innocent almost exactly a year ago, but they remain in detention despite a finding by the Combatant Status Review Tribunal (CSRT) that they should no longer be classified as enemy combatants, and despite a U.S. District Court Judge ruling a few months ago that their continued detention is unlawful.

The amicus brief being presented on behalf of the UAA is one of several such documents expected to be presented to the U.S. Supreme Court on March 23, all of which seek recognition of the most basic humanitarian and Constitutional rights for all detainees in Guantanamo Bay.

Mr. Qassim and Mr. Al-Hakim remain in detention because the U.S. government has been unable to find a country that is willing to take them, but refuses to return them to the Chinese authorities for fear of ill-treatment, torture and even execution.

“Mr. Qassim and Mr. Al-Hakim are not being held in Guantanamo Bay because they are a threat to the United States; they are being held because the government of the People’s Republic of China is a threat to them, said Nury Turkel, President of the UAA.

Fears that the Uyghurs detained in Guantanamo Bay would be persecuted should they be returned to China – the majority of whom, including Mr. Qassim and Mr. Al-Hakim, were sold to US forces by Pakistani bounty hunters – were illustrated by transcripts released from the Uyghurs’ tribunal hearings. Several of the detainees recount being explicitly threatened by Chinese officials who interrogated them in Guantanamo Bay.

“The UAA is ready and willing to provide whatever assurances the court may require for the release of Mr. Qassim and Mr. Al-Hakim, and we will do everything to ensure they meet any and all conditions of release imposed by the court, added Mr. Turkel.

The amicus brief, a legal document submitted by a third party in order to provide the court with an expert opinion, petitions for the release of Mr. Qassim and Mr. Al-Hakim into the custody and care of the Uyghur community in the United States, pending resettlement to another country.

The Uyghurs in Guantanamo

Former tribunal transcripts for the Uyghurs in Guantanamo reveal that nearly all fled repression under the Chinese government in East Turkistan – referred to by the Chinese authorities as the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region – to seek better prospects for themselves and their families away from the conditions of discrimination and repression in East Turkistan.

The Uyghurs eventually sent to Guantanamo Bay were mainly among two dozen or so who ended up practically destitute in a remote settlement in the mountains of Afghanistan, which was then bombed by US forces soon after 9/11.

According to their published testimonies, 18 of these Uyghurs managed to escape the bombing on foot towards Pakistan, but all 18 were picked up by Pakistani bounty-hunters and sold into U.S. custody as suspected al-Qaeda fighters or members of the Taliban.

While former Guantanamo detainees from other countries have been able to return in safety to their countries of origin, the PRC – which the US government acknowledges cannot be entrusted with guaranteeing the safety of the Uyghurs in Guantanamo – continues to be a stumbling block to the resolution of their cases.

Legal background

On December 22, 2005, the United States District Court for the District of Columbia ruled that Mr. Qassim and Mr. Al-Hakim’s continued detention was unlawful.

However, the court was unable to fashion a remedy citing constitutional obstacles. Petitioners sought a general release or alternatively a temporary release into the general population of the base at Guantanamo Bay until a permanent solution was reached, but the district court rejected petitioners’ proposals.

The district court held that while the court possessed the power to release the detainees under habeas corpus, it lacked the power to determine where they should be released because the admission or removal of aliens was a power vested exclusively with the executive branch of government.

This prompted Mr. Qassim and Mr. Al-Hakim to petition the United States Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit and the Supreme Court of the United States to hear their plea that they be released from custody.

“The district court judge abdicated its authority to release these individuals and essentially ‘passed the buck’ to the appellate courts and the executive branch to work out the details of Mr. Qassim and Mr. Al-Hakim’s release, said Sundeep Hora, legal counsel for the UAA.

“An unfortunate byproduct of the ‘war on terror’ is that innocent people are being captured and detained. However, once it is determined that their detention is unlawful, the government, whether it be the executive branch or a judge charged with reviewing a habeas corpus petition, should act swiftly to release these individuals so that they can resume their lives as best they can.

“Petitioners are justified in simultaneously petitioning the D.C. Circuit and Supreme Court in the hope of curtailing the time they spend in detention. Indeed, seeking certiorari before judgment is unusual but justified under these circumstances. We hope that either court will hear petitioners’ plea and the offer of assistance by the UAA in fashioning their immediate release, said Mr. Hora.

NB: When originally published, this press release inaccurately stated that Judge Robertson ruled in December 2005 that Abu Bakker Qassim and Adel Abdu’ Al-Hakim should be released. In fact, he ruled only that their continued detention was unlawful. UAA apologies for this error.