[Ppnews] Salving Obama's Cowardice - Swiss Take Two Gitmo Uighurs

Political Prisoner News ppnews at freedomarchives.org
Thu Feb 4 13:07:34 EST 2010

February 4, 2010

Salving Obama's Cowardice

Swiss Take Two Gitmo Uighurs


Congratulations to the Swiss Canton of Jura, 
[which has an old anarchist tradition, Eds] which 
recently accepted the asylum claims of two Uighur 
prisoners at Guantánamo, and to the Swiss federal 
government for agreeing to accept Jura’s decision on Wednesday.

The two men in question -- Arkin Mahmud, 45, and 
his brother Bahtiyar Mahnut, 32 -- were seized 
with 20 other Uighurs in December 2001. The U.S. 
authorities realized almost immediately that all 
of these men, who are Turkic Muslims from China’s 
Xinjiang province, had only one enemy -- the 
Chinese government -- and had been seized (or 
bought) by mistake. However, although the 
majority of the men were cleared for release by 
2005, the Bush administration accepted that it 
could not return them to China, because of fears 
that they would face torture or other 
ill-treatment, but then struggled to find another 
country that would take them instead.

In May 2006, Albania was persuaded to take five 
of these men, but the other 17 had to wait until 
October 2008, when Judge Ricardo Urbina, a U.S. 
District Court judge, ruled on their long-delayed 
habeas corpus petitions, and ordered their 
release into the United States, because no other 
country had been found that would take them, and 
because their continued detention was unconstitutional.

Predictably, the Bush administration appealed, 
and in February 2010 the Obama administration, to 
its eternal shame, followed suit, backing a 
ruling by the Court of Appeals, which overturned 
the lower court ruling, and hurled the Uighurs back into limbo.

In June 2009, the State Department managed to 
find new homes for four of these men in Bermuda, 
and in November the Pacific island of Palau took 
another six. As a result, seven Uighurs remained 
in Guantánamo, but by taking the brothers, the 
Swiss government has not only dared to take on 
the might of the Chinese government, which 
threatens any country that dares to entertain the 
prospect of taking any of the men from 
Guantánamo, but has also helped President Obama 
out of what appeared to be an intractable problem.

In a statement, the Swiss Justice Ministry said, 
“Today the Federal Council decided to admit for 
humanitarian reasons two Uighurs with Chinese 
citizenship, who have been imprisoned in 
Guantánamo for years by the United States without 
being charged with a crime nor [convicted].” 
Brushing aside the threats that the Chinese 
government had made last month, when Chinese 
officials warned that Switzerland should avoid 
damaging “overall Sino-Swiss relations,” the 
Justice Minister Eveline Widmer-Schlumpf added 
that Switzerland has a “stable, good relationship 
with China, and we want to keep it that way.”

Not mentioned publicly was the fact that, until 
Jura accepted the men’s asylum claims, one of 
them, Arkin Mahmud, appeared to stuck at 
Guantánamo, his only way out being to hope that 
the Supreme Court, which agreed to hear the 
Uighurs’ case last year, would overturn last 
February’s appeals court ruling, and allow 
cleared prisoners who cannot be repatriated into the United States.

The problem is that Palau had refused to take 
Arkin Mahmud, because, as the Washington Post 
noted in an editorial in October, he “suffers 
from serious mental health issues because of his 
detention and lengthy periods of solitary 
confinement.” As a result, Bahtiyar Mahnut turned 
down Palau’s offer of a new home for himself, in 
order to stay with his brother, and, as the Post 
noted, “Unless another country accepts the 
brothers, they could remain in custody 
indefinitely -- a prospect that is unconscionable 
and that no doubt informed the justices’ decision to hear the matter.”

As I explained in an article at the time:

“[T]he Supreme Court was faced with a tricky 
legal decision, because the justices will be 
considering whether, in defense of habeas corpus, 
and in reference to the unique position in which 
the Guantánamo prisoners are held, they are being 
asked to decide whether a judge has the power to 
order the release of prisoners into the U.S., 
when all the precedents, as the Court of Appeals 
made clear, establish that the admission of 
foreigners into the U.S. is a matter for the 
executive and legislative branches of government.”

At the time, the Post reached a conclusion with 
profound implications for the government, arguing 
that the “moral and ethical imperatives” were 
“clear and compelling,” and that the government 
should introduce “narrowly crafted legislation 
that would allow Mr. Mahmud and Mr. Mahnut into 
the United States, where they could remain 
together and Mr. Mahmud could get the medical help he needs.”

This “narrowly crafted legislation” will not now 
be needed, but it remains to be seen if the 
imminent release of Arkin Mahmud and Bahtiyar 
Mahnut will affect the Supreme Court’s planned 
deliberations about the remaining five Uighurs.

The Supreme Court has scheduled argument for 
March 23 to decide whether to overturn the 
precedents regarding the admission of foreigners 
into the U.S., when, as in the cases of the 
Uighurs, these men are held in Guantánamo because 
it is not safe to repatriate them, and no other nation will take them.

The men’s lawyers will argue, as they have 
consistently, that the Supreme Court ruling in 
June 2008, granting constitutionally guaranteed 
habeas corpus rights to the prisoners, is 
meaningless if a judge cannot actually order prisoners to be released.

As the Associated Press explained on Wednesday, 
the government could now try to argue that the 
Supreme Court should drop the case, because the 
remaining Uighurs were apparently offered new 
homes in Palau but turned down the offer. Sharon 
Bradford Franklin, senior counsel at The 
Constitution Project, told the AP that she feared 
this outcome. “I would not be surprised,” she 
said, “if the administration says that the 
Uighurs themselves are at fault that they have not been resettled to Palau.”

However, Sabin Willett, an attorney who has 
represented the Uighurs for many years, was more 
hopeful, telling the AP by email that he “expects 
the case to go forward.” I tend to share 
Willett’s optimism, but not, of course, if the 
remaining five men are miraculously resettled in 
some other country, perhaps just days before the March 23 deadline.

If there is one thing we have learned from the 
Obama administration, since the President shelved 
plans made last April by his counsel, Greg Craig, 
to bring the Uighurs to live in the U.S., it is 
that, regardless of whether senior officials may 
agree in private that resettling the Uighurs in 
the U.S. would be the right thing to do, they are 
not prepared to tackle their critics -- and the 
Bush administration’s poisonous legacy -- 
head-on. Instead, senior officials prefer not 
only to avoid confrontation, but also, sadly, to 
avoid doing anything that would demonstrate to 
the American public that enormous mistakes were 
made at Guantánamo, and that the rhetoric of Dick 
Cheney and his thriving acolytes is disturbingly mistaken.

I can think of no finer way to demonstrate this 
than to allow the Uighurs to walk free on the 
streets of, say, Washington D.C., but it remains 
clear that this is not something that the 
administration will undertake willingly, and in 
the meantime, the people of Bermuda and Palau 
have been learning this instead, and are soon to 
be joined by the people of Switzerland.

President Obama is fortunate to have such kind 
allies, but he himself is the loser, the longer 
he refuses to tackle those who insist, in the 
face of overwhelming evidence, that everyone who 
was held at Guantánamo was a “terrorist,” and 
that it is somehow appropriate to continue to 
deprive innocent men of their liberty in 
Guantánamo, rather than giving them new homes in 
the country that, through cruelty and 
incompetence, deprived them of so many years of their lives.

Andy Worthington is a British journalist, the 
author of 
Guantánamo Files: The Stories of the 774 
Detainees in America's Illegal Prison' (published 
by Pluto Press), and the co-director (with Polly 
Nash) of the new Guantánamo documentary, 
the Law: Stories from Guantánamo.’ Visit his 
website at: <http://www.andyworthington.co.uk/>www.andyworthington.co.uk

He can be reached at: 
<mailto:andy at andyworthington.co.uk>andy at andyworthington.co.uk

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