Court Orders Release of Chinese Uighur Detainees

10.08.08 | 2 min read | Text by Steven Aftergood

In an extraordinary rebuff to Bush Administration detention policy, a federal court yesterday ordered (pdf) that 17 Chinese Uighur detainees held in Guantanamo Bay shall be released into the United States because there is no lawful basis for their continued detention. The government immediately filed a motion to stay the ruling [update: the stay was granted].

Judge Ricardo M. Urbina said in effect that the Administration’s claim of exclusive jurisdiction over the matter was un-American.

“The unilateral carte blanche authority the political branches purportedly wield over the Uighurs is not in keeping with our system of governance,” Judge Urbina said at an October 7 hearing (pdf). “Because our system of checks and balances is designed to preserve the fundamental right of liberty, the Court grants the [Uighur] Petitioners’ motion for release into the United States.”

Judge Urbina ordinarily has a healthy respect for executive branch authority. “[You are] not the DCI,” he once told me, explaining why my views on the need for intelligence budget disclosure had no legal significance. But he also reluctantly became the first federal judge ever to order the CIA against its will to disclose an annual intelligence budget figure (for Fiscal Year 1963), after it was shown that the information was already in the public domain (“Judge Orders CIA to Disclose 1963 Budget,” Secrecy News, 04/05/05).

Uighur detainees at Guantanamo prison were interrogated by Chinese government agents working in collaboration with U.S. military interrogators, who deprived them of sleep the night before by waking them up every 15 minutes in a treatment called the “frequent flyer program.” That practice was noted in a recently updated report from the Congressional Research Service, citing June 2008 testimony from Justice Department Inspector General Glenn Fine. See “U.S.-China Counterterrorism Cooperation: Issues for U.S. Policy” (pdf), updated September 11, 2008.