By WILLIAM GLABERSON
Published: October 7, 2008
WASHINGTON " A federal judge on Tuesday ordered the Bush administration to immediately release 17 Chinese Muslims and allow them to stay in the United States, ruling that they are no longer considered enemy combatants.
Federal District Judge Urbina called the detention of the 17 prisoners " ethnic Uighers, a restive Muslim minority in western China " unlawful, saying the Constitution prohibits indefinite imprisonment without charges.
Efforts to find a home for the detainees has been complicated by fears in many countries of diplomatic reprisals by China. In June, federal appeals judges issued a decision that ridiculed as inadequate the Pentagon’s secret evidence for holding one Uighur, Huzaifa Parhat, a former fruit peddler who said he had gone to Afghanistan to escape China.
Since then, the Pentagon has conceded that it would “serve no useful purpose” to continue to try to prove that any of the 17 Uighurs were ever enemy combatants.
The Uighurs say they have never been enemies of the United States, though in 2002 they were in Afghanistan, where they were detained. They say they would be persecuted or killed if they were returned to China. The Bush administration has said it has failed to find another country willing to accept them.