A federal judge today ordered that 17 Chinese Muslims held at the Guantanamo Bay military prison be released into the United States by Friday, agreeing with the detainees’ attorneys that the Constitution bars holding the men indefinitely without cause.
It was the first time that a U.S. court has ordered the release of a Guantanamo detainee, and the first time that a foreign national held there has been ordered brought to the United States.
U.S. District Judge Ricardo M. Urbina issued the landmark ruling in the case of a small band of captives, known as Uighurs, who have been held at Guantanamo for nearly seven years and are no longer considered enemy combatants by the U.S. government.
At a hearing packed with Uighurs who live in the Washington area, Urbina rejected government arguments that he had no authority to order the men’s release. He said he had such authority because the men were being held indefinitely and it was the only remedy available. He cited a June decision by an appellate court that found evidence against the Uighurs to be unreliable.
The Justice Department lawyer asked for a week’s stay but the judge refused. The Uighurs have to be in his courtroom on Friday and he will release them into the custody of Uighur families in the Washington area. The government will appeal.
Now here’s an alternate telling from a source I consider more reliable and sensible, Andy McCarthy at National Review’s Corner:
Judge Ricardo Urbina rejected the government’s arguments that he was without authority to order the release. He reasoned, despite the fact that the Uighurs are non-Americans held outside the United States, that they are vested by the United States Constitution with a right against indefinite detention. The government has been trying to find a country that (a) will take them and (b) will not persecute them. Where in the Constitution it says these aliens have a right to enter the United States and live among our population is not clear.
Note that under the 2005 REAL ID Act, the immigration law grounds for excluding aliens from the United States were expanded to include, among other grounds, the following: If the alien (a) “is a representative of (1) a designated or non-designated terrorist organization; or (2) any political, social, or other group that endorses or espouses terrorist activity”; or (b) “has received military-type training, from or on behalf of any organization that, at the time the training was received, was a terrorist organization.
McCarthy links to an article he wrote right after the Supreme Court’s Boumedienne decision, the one that granted the Guantanamo war prisoners the right to appeal their detentions in federal court. He said in that article:
These guys weren’t out of China on Hajj. They were getting combat training from Islamic militants in Afghanistan. Moreover, many…have been involved in serious incidents at Gitmo, including numerous assaults on U.S. military personnel and participation in riots incited by jihadists.
But, he adds, don’t worry. Judge Urbina thinks they’re suitable neighbors for you.
Update: The White House says:
We are deeply concerned by, and strongly disagree with, today’s decision by a federal district court ordering the release into the United States — by this Friday morning — of 17 Uighurs currently held at Guantanamo Bay.
This decision, we believe, is contrary to our laws, including federal immigration statutes passed by Congress. The Department of Justice intends to seek emergency relief tonight to stay the court’s order and to request a prompt reversal of the order by the Court of Appeals. The district court’s ruling, if allowed to stand, could be used as precedent for other detainees held at Guantanamo Bay, including sworn enemies of the United States suspected of planning the attacks of 9/11, who may also seek release into our country.
Consistent with the safety of our citizens and the safety of the Uighurs themselves, the United States will continue working to find a country to which these men could be transferred.