Fri, Nov 21, 2008 - Page 7 News List

Bush wrong on Uighurs: group

COSERVATIVE CRITICISMA bipartisan group of former officials, scholars and military leaders signed a letter criticizing the suspension of rights in Guantanamo Bay

AP , WASHINGTON

A group of conservatives is chastising the administration of US President George W. Bush for refusing to free 17 Turkic Muslims being held without charges at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, saying their continued detention defied legal principles and “undermines our standing in the world.”

The 10 conservatives, including legal scholars and officials who worked for Republican presidents, said the Uighurs — a group of Muslims from China — should be freed immediately because they were no longer considered enemy combatants.

Their statement came as a federal appeals court was set to hear arguments next week on whether the Bush administration overstepped its constitutional bounds by blocking the Uighurs’ release.

“The executive branch is wrong to have detained the Uighurs for nearly seven years without meaningful review,” said a letter being released yesterday by the Constitution Project, a bipartisan think tank.

“Moreover, it is wrong in opposing the exercise of their habeas corpus rights, and it is wrong in asserting they can be detained indefinitely,” the letter said.

The letter was signed by Stephen Abraham, a 26-year veteran of military intelligence who played a key role in the “enemy combatant” hearings at Guantanamo Bay before repudiating the process last year.

Other signers inbcluded Colonel Lawrence Wilkerson, who served as chief of staff to former US secretary of state Colin Powell, and Bruce Fein, associate deputy attorney general under the administration of former US president Ronald Reagan.

“The continued detention of the 17 Uighurs in Guantanamo compromises our principles and undermines our standing in the world,” they wrote.

US District Judge Ricardo Urbina last month ordered the government to immediately free the detainees into the US, criticizing their detention as having “crossed the constitutional threshold into infinitum.”

But the US Court of Appeals for the DC Circuit blocked their release while the Justice Department appealed the decision, a process that could take years.

At issue was whether a federal judge had the authority to order the release of prisoners at the US naval facility at Guantanamo Bay who were unlawfully detained by the US and could not be sent back to their homeland.

The Uighurs, who are Muslims of Turkic-speaking descent in western China, have been cleared for release. However, they fear they will be tortured if they are turned over to China.

The Bush administration, which contended the Uighurs were too dangerous to be admitted into the US, has said it was continuing “heightened” efforts to find another country to accept them.

Albania accepted five Uighur detainees in 2006 but since has balked at taking others, partly for fear of diplomatic repercussions from China.

Other signers to yesterday’s statement were David Keene, chairman of the American Conservative Union, a lobbying group that ranks politicians; Richard Epstein, a prominent conservative legal scholar at the University of Chicago; former FBI director William Sessions; Thomas Evans, former co-chairman of the Republican National Committee; Mickey Edwards, former chairman of the House Republican Policy Committee; John Whitehead, president of the Rutherford Institute; and Don Wallace, chairman of the International Law Institute.

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