What might have been for GTMO’s Uighurs

gtmoVia a flight to Slovakia, United States has relinquished custody of all Uighurs – Muslim men from western China who’d been held at Guantánamo many years after executive and judicial officials agreed the men posed no threat to national security.

It didn’t have to take so long.

‘Way back in 2008, a federal judge (interviewed today by the Miami Herald‘s Carol Rosenberg) ordered release of the men. And in spring 2009, some of these detainees came thisclose to freedom in the United States. They were to be hosted by the Uighur community in Northern Virginia. A plane was readied for their journey to the mainland. According to a May 2009 Newsweek report:

‘Then on May 1, Virginia GOP Rep. Frank Wolf got tipped off. Furious, he fired off a public letter to President Obama …. The flight never took off.’

Wolf’s stated concerns that, among other things, “the detainees might attack Chinese diplomats in D.C.,” ended the 2009 plan. Indeed, within a month, The New York Times then reported,

‘Congress overwhelmingly passed a rider to an appropriations bill for the war in Afghanistan that banned resettling any of the Guantánamo detainees in the United States …’

That stalled the release of the 22 Uighurs (now living in 6 different countries) and other detainees at GTMO (photo credit), for years. Things have picked up this year, thanks to a congressional ease-up and to work by newly appointed State and Defense envoys. But as The Times’ Charlie Savage reports today, there’s still a way to go before the camp closes:

‘There are 155 prisoners remaining at Guantánamo. Of those, about half have long been approved for transfer if security conditions can be met in the receiving country, the bulk of whom are Yemenis.’

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