The United States must send them back to China
The New York Times reports that the United States is attempting to make alternative accomodation arrangements for Uighur terrorists held in Guantanamo Bay.
United States military officials have concluded that at least half of the Uighurs here are eligible for release, but the prisoners have said they do not want to be returned to China because they fear they will be tortured or killed as terrorists. That has sent United States officials scrambling to find a third country willing to accept the Uighurs. So far, several European countries, including Norway and Switzerland, have declined. European newspapers in other countries have reported that their governments have refused as well.
Beijing, for its part, has asserted that the Uighurs are terrorists and that the United States should return them to China to demonstrate its commitment to fighting terrorism around the world. A spokesman for China’s Foreign Ministry warned last week that relations between Washington and Beijing could be harmed if the United States sent any Uighurs to a third country.
One of the Uighurs held at Guantanamo went before a special tribunal on Friday to argue that he was not an unlawful enemy combatant and should not have been arrested in Afghanistan and kept in the detention camp here. The man, a 33-year-old with an artificial left leg, told the military panel that he was not an enemy of the United States and that he hoped America would one day help the Uighur independence movement.[NYT]
The United States must repatriate the Uighur terrorists to China. International concerns over how China treats its minorities, especially Uighur civilians may be justified, but they are not exactly relevant in this case. The Uighurs were in Afghanistan to train with the Taliban and carry the terror tactics and ideology back home to Xinjiang. Now that the United States has had an opportunity to interrogate them, it must not deny the same to China.
Besides, the war against al-Qaeda is not over yet — the United States would still require China’s strategic and tactical cooperation to capture Osama bin Laden and the rest of the al-Qaeda all-stars team. China would be less likely to cooperate if the United States were to signal that some terrorists could in fact be freedom-fighters, no matter what President Bush once declared.