06/27/2009 05:12 am ET | Updated May 25, 2011

Dem Senators Open To Allowing Innocent Chinese Detainees To Live In U.S.

Members of Congress from both parties have been climbing over each other lately to be the most forceful opponent of transferring Guantanamo Bay detainees to prisons in their home states.

But a group of 17 Chinese Muslims have been cleared by the Bush administration and aren't looking for a prison to lock them up -- they need a community to take them in.

The Huffington Post asked senators how they'd deal with what should be a simpler problem but politically could be more difficult: What about the Uighurs?

"This has just been such a horrible situation for these people," said Sen. Dick Durbin (Ill.), the third-ranking Democrat. "They have been pilloried by people on the floor of the Senate, but most believe, most people I have heard from suggest that they should be returned, but the question is no one will take them."

Why won't we take them?

"I don't know. We may be in a position where that will be considered, but I leave that up to the administration. I just don't know," he said.

Several senators began answers with the premise that the Uighurs were not a threat, but transitioned while they spoke to keeping them in prison.

"I think anybody who is declared not to be a threat is not. We have plenty of places to hold people. We have maximum-security prisons that nobody is ever going to get out of. That's just a fact," said North Dakota Democrat Byron Dorgan.

"There are going to be detainees that are not going to be able to be tried, for whatever reasons, and are going to have to be released. The question is where. And I think that's an issue that we need to talk about, because in some cases their native countries are not accepting them for whatever reasons. I think there are more options than just the United States, and I think we need to look at all the options," said Sen. Ben Cardin, a Democrat who represents Maryland, a state neighboring the Northern Virginia Uighur community that has volunteered to take them.

"I would not exclude the United States," said Cardin.

"I'm open to discussion on that. I don't know enough details to know," said Sen. Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio).

Sens. John McCain (Ariz.) and Lindsey Graham (S.C.) are the leading Republican theorists on detention policy in the Senate. Both said the Uighur situation could only be resolved by the implementation of a comprehensive policy that covered all detainees.

"There's no policy. Again, we've got to have a policy," said McCain. "I'd be willing to negotiate with the White House to try to work out all these issues."

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) had taken a hard line on detainees earlier last week, saying that none could be transferred to the United States, not even to prisons. He dialed that back a bit in a recent interview with the Las Vegas Sun.

But the best he would do is say the Uighurs "probably" don't belong in maximum security prison.

"There's no question that a number of these people who are there are not guilty of anything. The Uighurs, these are a group of Muslim Chinese who are guilty of nothing. They were arrested, put in there. They are there. They are doing nothing. We're going to have to find someplace to put them. We can't send them back to China. Should they go into a maximum-security prison? Probably not," he said.

The Uighurs themselves aren't optimistic that they'll be released anytime soon, they told their translator recently. "If we are the innocent ones from day one -- and for the past six years, and the government knew we were innocent -- if we are still here, how he is going to deal with the 240 prisoners and shut down the base by next January?" their translator says they wonder. "They're a little bit skeptical about it actually happening."

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