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Appeals Court Blocks Release of Uighurs Held at Gitmo

In case there were any lingering doubts as to just how Kafkaesque the U.S. detention policy for Guantanamo Bay prisoners has become, the latest chapter in the long and tragic saga of 17 Chinese Uighurs held at the facility should lay them to rest.

The Washington Post reports that a federal appeals court today blocked the release of the Uighurs — members of a small Muslim minority in Western China — into the custody of Uighur host families in the United States.

The 17 Chinese Muslims, all Uighurs, have been held at Guantanamo Bay since 2002. In October, a federal judge ordered the men released into the United States after the government presented no evidence to justify their detentions. The government no longer considers the Uighurs to be enemy combatants and has been unsuccessfully trying to find other countries to accept them for years.

TWI’s Daphne Eviatar has written about the case here and here. Basically, the U.S. government can’t find another country willing to accept the Uighurs, but it won’t return them to China for fear that they will be tortured or killed. Despite a lack of evidence against them, the Bush administration fought their release and eventually punted to its successor. Now, it’s up to the Obama administration to figure out what to do with them — and the case has created an interesting legal question: If the executive branch can’t justify a prisoner’s detention, can a federal court force the president to let the prisoner go free?

While many are worried that early signs indicate that the President Obama is toeing a suspiciously close line to the Bush administration’s war on terror policies, the Uighur case presents a clear opportunity for Obama to come down forcefully on the side of justice, rather than indefinite, unjustified detention.

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