2 Chinese Muslim detainees transferred from Guantanamo prison to Switzerland

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

2 Uighurs go to Switzerland from Guantanamo

WASHINGTON — The United States has sent two Chinese Muslim brothers to Switzerland, ending their eight years of detention at the U.S. naval base at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.

The Justice Department announced the transfer Wednesday. It did not identify the detainees, but the Obama administration has previously said the Swiss had agreed to resettle two brothers, Arkin Mahmud and Bahtiyar Mahnut.

There are now 183 detainees at Guantanamo, including five Chinese Muslims, or Uighurs. They have been regarded by critics of U.S. detention policies as a symbol unfairness in the aftermath of the Sept. 11, 2001, terror attacks.

Switzerland’s decision to accept the brothers led the Supreme Court to scuttle a case on detainee rights.

The court had agreed to decide whether federal judges have the right to order detainees to be released in the United States when they have nowhere else to go. Until the Swiss made their offer, Mahmud had not been invited to resettle anywhere because of concerns over his mental health.

The court then dismissed the case at the administration’s request.

The other five Uighurs have turned down an invitation from Palau, a tiny nation in the Pacific Ocean, for reasons that are not known. The government acknowledges they pose no terror threat, and they can’t return to China for fear of persecution or worse.

The parliament of the Swiss canton, or state, of Jura acknowledged the brothers’ arrival.

“Both brothers expressly committed to the Swiss authorities that they would comply with Swiss law and learn French. They also indicated their intention to seek appropriate professions,” said a statement from the parliament.

Elizabeth Gilson, a lawyer in New Haven, Conn., who represents the brothers, said they were welcomed to Switzerland in a moving airport ceremony attended by high-level Swiss officials.

“Finally these men are free,” Gilson said in a telephone interview. “I’m asking that they just be left in peace for a while as they transition from nine years of institutionalization to the world of free men.”

Other Uighurs have gone from Guantanamo to Albania, Bermuda and Palau.

U.S. diplomats have tried for a long time to find the Uighurs a home, and China has tried equally hard to dissuade other countries from accepting them. Beijing regards them as suspected terrorists who should face justice in China.

The Uighurs are from Xinjiang, a far western region of China that borders Afghanistan, Pakistan and Central Asia. The Turkic-speaking Muslims say they have long been repressed by the Chinese government.

Associated Press writer Frank Jordans in Geneva contributed to this report.

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