US focus to transfer, not accept 'terror' inmates
Obama incurred the wrath of human rights groups last month by announcing the restoration of controversial military tribunals for Guantanamo detainees and suggesting some ‘war on terror’ suspects could be held indefinitely without trial.Washington -- The transfer Thursday of Chinese Uighurs from Guantanamo to Bermuda suggests President Barack Obama aims to close the prison by transferring detainees to other countries, bowing to domestic political realities, analysts say.
Obama incurred the wrath of human rights groups last month by announcing the restoration of controversial military tribunals for Guantanamo detainees and suggesting some "war on terror" suspects could be held indefinitely without trial.
Now, in a bid to unload the inmates, the United States has unleashed a flurry of requests that countries such as Germany, Canada, Australia and the tiny Pacific island nation of Palau to take in the remaining the remaining Uighurs, who have held since 2002 but cleared of all charges since 2006.
After four of the Chinese Muslims were flown from the prison in Cuba to Bermuda, analysts said it was unlikely the Washington would ever take any into the United States because of strong opposition from US lawmakers from both parties.
"I do think it is very, very unlikely that many of the Uighurs would be resettled in the US in the future," Wells Dixon, a Uighur representative at the Centre for Constitutional Rights (CCR), told AFP.
"The practical reality is that the only way for my clients to get out is that another country resettle them," Dixon said.
Defence Secretary Robert Gates and Attorney General Eric Holder announced earlier this year the administration planned to host the Uighurs on American soil.
But even though US authorities maintain the Uighurs -- like several dozen other Guantanamo inmates -- pose no security threat, US lawmakers have cut off funds to resettle them in the United States, saying they could pose a risk.
The United States has ruled out sending them back to China, believing they would be persecuted and subject to torture.
About 50 other detainees face the same Catch-22 with a critical bloc of US lawmakers refusing to allow them on US soil and authorities fearing they will face torture if transferred to their home countries.
The Obama administration could nonetheless be ordered to free remaining Uighurs in the United States if it does not resolve their case before a Supreme Court decision by the end of June.
Susan Baker Manning, one of two lawyers who accompanied the men to Bermuda, insists US authorities have a responsibility to free the remaining Uighurs in the United States.
"I realize that there is much controversy in the US but that's based on really a kind of hysteria, that is not based on the facts," she said.
"The facts are that these men are not terrorist, they were never terrorists. If we believe in our constitution and if we believe in the rule of law, we need to do that," she said.
For the remaining detainees, almost 240 in all, the Obama administration is under many conflicting "legal pressures, domestic pressures and international pressures," said Geneve Mantri, an expert on Guantanamo at Amnesty International.
Some countries that may be willing to take detainees, Mantri noted, offered to do so with "the only condition that the US also take some."
Dixon said the human rights community "had very high expectations" for Obama.
"We believed President Obama when he said he wanted to close Guantanamo and we still think that he's sincere," he said.
Obama has vowed to shut the facility by January 2010.
But, Dixon added, "it is very disappointing that a number of prisoners -- like the Uighurs -- who have been cleared for release for many, many years continue to be detained there."
Since 2002, more than 540 detainees have been transferred from Guantanamo to at least 30 countries, the Justice Department said.
On Thursday two more detainees, a young man with dual Chadian and Saudi nationalities and an Iraqi, were transferred to Chad and to Iraq respectively.