Today Judge Ricardo Urbina, ordered the release of 17 Chinese Muslims who have been held in Guatanamo Bay as enemy combatants since their capture in Afghanistan in 2002. This is the first time that a federal judge has ordered the government to release someone held in Guantanamo Bay. That takes balls.
Born in Manhattan to a Honduran father and Perto Rican mother, Judge Urbina was President Reagan's first judicial appointee. Reagan appointed him to serve on the D.C. Superior Court in 1981. In 1994, when President Clinton nomiated him to serve on the U.S. Federal District Court for the District of Columbia, Judge Urbina was the first Latino appointed to the Federal Bench in D.C. Now, fourteen years later, Judge Urbina gets to add being the first federal judge to order the release of a Gitmo detainee to his list of other firsts.
In June 2008, the Supreme Court decided that the constitutional right of habeas corpus (the right to force the government to explain its reasons for detaining a person) is not limited to people held on United States soil, but rather that it extends also to people that the U.S. government holds in Guantanamo Bay. Nevertheless, all that decision really said was that the government had to explain its reasons for holding prisoners---not that they necessarily had to be particularly persuasive reasons.
The seventeen men are members of an ethnic group known as Uyghurs. Uyghurs are ethnically Turkic, and practice Islam, but live in China. In 2002, seventeen the Uyghurs were captured in Afghanistan. They admitted to seeking training from the Taliban in order to defend fellow Uyghurs from the oppressive communist Chinese government. They denied being terrorists, and denied any intent to harm the United States, saying that it was China that they considered the enemy.
A military court called the Combatant Status Review Tribunal determined in 2004 and 2005 that fifteen of the seventeen Uyghurs were not enemy combatants. Earlier this year, the two others were also cleared of suspicion. Nevertheless, they were not released because of concerns about where to send them. They do not want to be sent back to China (for obvious reasons), and other nations are scared of offending China by granting them asylum.
Judge Urbina, however, didn't think that not wanting to offend China was a good enough reason hold people without trial when the government had already admitted that they were innocent. He ordered the government to bring them to his courtroom by next Friday. The DOJ asked for a stay of the order, which Judge Urbina denied. The DOJ stonewalled, saying that it would immediately appeal, and that immigration might have to detain them. Reminding the DOJ that they have already been held for seven years, Judge Urbina impatiently warned the DOJ not to create unnecesary delay.
Like I said, that takes balls.