A U.S. federal appeals court has struck down the U.S. military's
classification of a Guantanamo Bay detainee as an enemy combatant. VOA's
Michael Bowman reports, this is the first time the U.S. court system has
overruled the Bush administration's designation of a detainee since the
Guantanamo facility began operations in early 2002.
The court ruled in favor of a Chinese
Muslim, Huzaifa Parhat, who has spent the last six years in detention and is one
of more than 100 detainees to challenge their enemy combatant status in the U.S.
judicial system. The court directed the U.S. military to release Parhat,
transfer him out of Guantanamo, or hold a new proceeding to once again determine
The court announced its decision without providing any
details, saying the ruling contains classified information. The Department of
Defense did not immediately comment on the matter.
Human rights groups
say the appeals court ruling is a landmark decision for Guantanamo detainees,
yet one with little practical benefit for Parhat.
Stacy Sullivan is a
counter-terrorism advisor for New York-based Human Rights Watch.
[Parhat] will probably not be released," she said. "He is a Chinese Uighur, and
there are a number of Chinese Uighurs being held at Guantanamo who are already
declared no longer enemy combatants. But they cannot leave Guantanamo because
they have nowhere to go. They cannot be sent back to China because they have a
well-founded fear of torture [in China], and the United States to its credit
will not send them back there. So the Uighurs are pretty much stuck in
In 2006, the United States released five Uighurs from
Guantanamo and resettled them in Albania. China, which regards the Uighurs as
terrorists and separatists, demanded Albania to return them to China. Albania
did not comply.
U.S. authorities believe some Uighurs have links to
al-Qaeda. But they admit the Uighurs held at Guantanamo never fought against the
United States, nor did they take part in the 9/11 terrorist attacks in New York
Human Rights Watch's Stacy Sullivan says the plight of
the Guantanamo Uighurs points to a real dilemma facing the United States if at
some point it decides to close Guantanamo, an action favored by both presumptive
Republican and Democratic presidential nominees.
"There are about 50
detainees there who have said they do not want to go home because they fear
being tortured: Uzbeks, Libyans, Uighurs, a few other nationalities," she said.
"What is to be done with them? It is simple enough to transfer those for whom we
have evidence of terrorism and try them in our federal court system. But the 50
detainees who cannot go home, it is unclear what is going to happen to them, and
that is going to make closing Guantanamo really difficult."
appeals court ruling follows a U.S. Supreme Court decision earlier this month
affirming the right of Guantanamo suspects to challenge their detention in U.S.