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Gitmo Ruling Rejected By Appeals Court

PETE YOST   06/23/08 06:22 PM ET   AP


WASHINGTON — A Chinese Muslim at Guantanamo Bay got a small measure of vindication Monday when a federal appeals court announced it had thrown out his designation as an enemy combatant, marking a setback for the Bush administration.

The ruling in favor of Huzaifa Parhat comes in the first of what eventually could be 160 or so such court reviews filed by Guantanamo Bay detainees in the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit.

To be sure, the cases of Parhat and a small number of other Chinese Muslim detainees _ known as Uighurs _ are a unique sub-category of the cases involving roughly 270 detainee at Guantanamo Bay.

The Justice Department concedes that Parhat never fought against the U.S. and says it has no evidence he was planning to do so.

The case hinges on Parhat's connection to the East Turkestan Islamic Movement, a militant group that demands separation from China and that the military says has some ties to the al-Qaida terrorist network.

The United States named the East Turkestan Islamic Movement a terrorist group in 2002, a move that some international affairs analysts say was made to appease China and ensure it would not oppose the invasion of Iraq.

The appeals court directed the U.S. military to release Parhat, to transfer him or to hold a new proceeding promptly. The court also specified that Parhat could petition a federal judge seeking his immediate release in light of the Supreme Court's June 12 decision giving that right to all the detainees held at Guantanamo Bay.

The Bush administration wants to delay the type of appeals court proceeding that went in Parhat's favor. The administration is taking the position that in view of the Supreme Court's June 12 ruling, the court system should first deal with the detainees' petitions in the lower federal courts challenging their indefinite detention, a process that promises to be complicated and time-consuming.

In a June 19 letter to Defense Secretary Robert Gates that was released Monday, Reps. Bill Delahunt, D-Mass., and Dana Rohrabacher, R-Calif., called the Uighurs friends of the United States and asked Gates to parole them into the United States. In the meantime, they should be transferred to less-restrictive quarters at Guantanamo Bay, urged Delahunt and Rohrabacher.

Delahunt chairs a House subcommittee on human rights and Rohrabacher is the panel's ranking Republican.

The U.S. has tried to find a country willing to accept the Uighurs even as it defends its decision to hold them as enemy combatants.

The military says Parhat trained in an ETIM camp to prepare to fight against China. The Chinese government blames the separatist group for hundreds of attacks, while human rights groups say Beijing represses religious freedom and uses anti-terrorism laws to crack down on legitimate protests.

The three-member appeals court panel that issued the ruling consisted of Chief Judge David Sentelle and judges Merrick Garland and Thomas Griffith.

Sentelle is an appointee of President Reagan, Garland was appointed by President Clinton and Griffith was appointed by President George W. Bush.

Earlier this month, Delahunt and Rohrabacher chastised the Bush administration for allowing the Chinese government to interrogate Chinese Muslim detainees who remain at Guantanamo Bay.

The Bush administration previously arranged for five Uighurs to be sent to Albania. Last week, Sweden denied asylum to one of the Chinese Muslims who wants to leave Albania.

A lawyer for the Muslim, Adel Abdu Al-Hakim, says Albania will not allow the man's wife and children, who are still in China, to join him. Al-Hakim applied for asylum in Sweden in November, when he visited to attend a human rights conference in Stockholm.


Filed by Rachel Weiner  |