Conservatives Call On Bush To Free Uighurs

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A group of conservatives is chastising the Bush administration for refusing to free 17 Turkic Muslims being held without charges at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, saying their continued detention defies legal principles and "undermines our standing in the world."

The 10 conservatives, including legal scholars and officials who worked for Republican presidents, said the Uighurs - a group of Muslims from China - should be freed immediately because they are no longer considered enemy combatants.

Their statement comes as a federal appeals court was set to hear arguments next week on whether the Bush administration overstepped its constitutional bounds by blocking the Uighurs' release.

"The executive branch is wrong to have detained the Uighurs for nearly seven years without meaningful review," says a letter being released Thursday by The Constitution Project, a bipartisan think tank. "Moreover, it is wrong in opposing the exercise of their habeas corpus rights, and it is wrong in asserting they can be detained indefinitely."

The letter was signed by Stephen E. Abraham, a 26-year veteran of military intelligence who played a key role in the "enemy combatant" hearings at Guantanamo Bay before repudiating the process last year; Col. Lawrence B. Wilkerson, who served as chief of staff to former Secretary of State Colin Powell; and Bruce Fein, former associate deputy attorney general in the Reagan administration.

"The continued detention of the 17 Uighurs in Guantanamo compromises our principles and undermines our standing in the world," they wrote.

U.S. District Judge Ricardo M. Urbina in October ordered the government to immediately free the detainees into the United States, criticizing their detention as having "crossed the constitutional threshold into infinitum."

But the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit blocked their release while the Justice Department appeals the decision, a process that could take years.

At issue is whether a federal judge has the authority to order the release of prisoners at the U.S. naval facility at Guantanamo Bay who were unlawfully detained by the U.S. and cannot be sent back to their homeland.

The Uighurs, who are Turkic-speaking Muslims in western China, have been cleared for release but fear they will be tortured if they are turned over to China.

The Bush administration, which contends the Uighurs are too dangerous to be admitted into the U.S., has said it was continuing "heightened" efforts to find another country to accept them. Albania accepted five Uighur detainees in 2006 but since has balked at taking others, partly for fear of diplomatic repercussions from China.

Other signers to Thursday's statement are David Keene, chairman of the American Conservative Union, a lobbying group; Richard Epstein, a prominent conservative legal scholar at the University of Chicago; former FBI director William Sessions; Thomas B. Evans Jr., former co-chairman of the Republican National Committee; Mickey Edwards, former chairman of the House Republican Policy Committee; John W. Whitehead, president of The Rutherford Institute; and Don Wallace Jr., chairman of the International Law Institute.
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