For Immediate Release, October 7, 2008
In a courtroom packed with anti-torture activists and members of the Uigher community, U.S. District Judge Ricardo M. Urbina struck a landmark blow against the Bush administration and its policy of indefinite detention at Guantánamo in Washington, DC today.
The case involved seventeen Uighers, ethnic Chinese Muslim detainees held at Guantánamo despite having been deemed unthreatening and cleared for released. The United States has continued to hold them, arguing they would face persecution if repatriated to China. Judge Urbina called their continued detention "illegal," and ruled that the government has to "release them here" in the United States.
When the government argued that bringing the men to the United States might result in their apprehension by the Department of Homeland Security, Judge Urbina grew angry and frustrated, saying "these Uighers will not be touched until I see them in this court… The petitioners must be brought to me on Friday [October 10th] and nothing will happen to these people before then." The government is expected to appeal the ruling, postponing what would be the first time in nearly seven years that prisoners at Guantánamo would appear before a U.S. court of law.
The Uighers, who are members of a repressed minority within China, have been held without judicial oversight for nearly seven years. Fleeing a Chinese crackdown, they were arrested by security personnel in Pakistan soon after September 11, 2001 and were transferred to U.S. military custody in exchange for bounties of $5,000 a piece. After being subjected to torture in Pakistan, the men have languished in legal limbo at Guantánamo. A smaller group of Uighers was released from Guantánamo in 2006 and granted entry into Albania.
Members of Witness Against Torture, a grassroots movement to shut down Guantánamo, were present at the hearing and heartened by Urbina's ruling. "Once again the courts are ruling in favor of justice," said Matthew W. Daloisio, of New York City, one of the group's organizers. "Judge Urbina is opening the doors of the United States to these innocent victims of the White House's war on terror."
"This is a good step," comments Helen Schietinger, a Washington, DC resident and another organizer with Witness Against Torture. "And in the context of a presidential race in which both major candidates have called for the closure of Guantánamo," she continues, "this ruling could be the beginning of freedom for many of the more than 200 men who remain imprisoned at the U.S. Naval Base there: but we have to make it happen. In the coming weeks and months, we have a historic opportunity to reverse the disastrous policies of the last seven years."
Witness Against Torture has launched a campaign to close the U.S. detention facilities at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba and end torture by the United States within the first 100 days of the new President's administration. Joined by the Center for Constitutional Rights, United for Peace and Justice, the Torture Abolition and Survivors Support Coalition International, War Resisters League, the School of the Americas Watch and other groups, Witness Against Torture will begin a nine-day fast on January 11, 2009, which marks seven years since the opening of the prison at Guantánamo.
The campaign to Shut Down Guantánamo will begin formally on January 20, the inauguration of the next President. The campaign brings together a coalition of groups and individuals who will take part in demonstrations, educate Congress and the public, and engage in nonviolent direct action. Witness Against Torture will maintain a physical presence at the White House and organize activities — from film screenings to lectures and community meetings — in Washington, D.C., and across the country.
To learn more about the Campaign, visit http://www.witnesstorture.org/100days