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Chinese Muslim languishes in Gitmo legal limbo

Note: This is an article than ran in the Sept. 29 edition of the Chicago Tribune.

WASHINGTON — The United States held him for seven years and then, ultimately, decided that he poses no threat to national security. But he’s still sitting in prison at Guantanamo Bay because no other country will take him. Nor will the U.S. let him come here to live, even temporarily. 

In the Kafkaesque world of Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, being eligible for freedom doesn’t make you free. 

He is Huzaifa Parhat, who now promises to be the next test case in detainee rights in the war on terror. Parhat is a Uighur, a Muslim from western China, picked up in Afghanistan after the Sept. 11 attacks on suspicion of having ties to the Taliban. Some Uighurs (pronounced WE-goors) are part of a movement that seeks separation from China to form their own Islamic nation.

The Chinese government considers Uighurs a threat to the country’s security and is accused of widespread human-rights abuses in their home province of Xinjiang. The U.S. State Department will not return Uighur detainees at Guantanamo to China because of fears that they will be imprisoned or tortured. 

But the U.S., too, has recently branded Uighur separatists as terrorists, even though a decade ago they were cheered by conservatives such as the late Sen. Jesse Helms for opposing the Chinese government. 

Parhat scored a major victory in June when he became the first Guantanamo detainee to have his detention ruled invalid by a U.S. federal appeals court. Since then, his lawyers have been trying to free him from the naval prison, but the Bush administration has resisted, arguing, in essence, that even though there is no longer any basis to hold him as an enemy of the state, it still has the power to decide how, where, and when to let him go. 

Now his lawyers are pressing for a court to order an extraordinary remedy. They want Parhat to come to the U.S. to testify that he poses no threat. And after that, they want him released in the U.S. to live until another home can be found for him. 

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Filed under Guantanamo, War on Terror