Thursday, August 25, 2005

Guantanamo: Imprisoning the innocent

Via Crooked Timber: The US government has continued to detain people in Guantanamo for up to two years after their own military tribunals have ordered their release. 15 Uighurs were ordered released by a military tribunal in late 2003, 5 for being in the wrong place at the wrong time (a depressingly common reason for imprisonment in Guantanamo), and 10 because they were "deemed low-risk detainees whose enemy was China's communist government -- not the United States". Despite this, the men are still imprisoned. The reason is that the US, in a rare acknowledgement of its responsibilities under the Convention Against Torture, cannot return them to China because they would likely face persecution. The US government has been unable to convince any other country to take them, and so they remain in prison, despite having been declared innocent of any crime. And not just in prison; according to one of their laywers, when he was finally able to meet with his client, he found him "chained to the floor" in a "box with no windows".

But it gets worse:

All 15 Uighurs have actually been cleared for release from Guantanamo Bay twice, once after a Pentagon review in late 2003 and again last March, U.S. officials said. Seven other Uighurs were ruled to be enemy combatants and will continue to be detained.

Even after the second decision, however, the government did not notify the 15 men for several months that they had been cleared. "They clearly were keeping secret that these men were acquitted. They were found not to be al Qaeda and not to be Taliban," Willett said. "But the government still refused to provide a transcript of the tribunal that acquitted them to the detainees, their new lawyers or a U.S. court."

Even after the second decision that they should be released, the men were still denied any access to their lawyers for more than a year. It was only through a complicated process called "next friend authorisation" that they were able to obtain legal representation at all - and even then their lawyers had to fight the military every step of the way for access to their clients who had already been determined to be innocent.

As for what should be done, the United States has messed up these people's lives by imprisoning them for four years without charge or trial before deciding they were innocent. They have a responsibility to make good their mistake. And given that they recognise that these men have a well-founded fear of persecution, the obvious place to start is by granting them refugee status.