Very good news from Reuters:
"The United States said on Friday it had flown five Chinese Muslim men who had been held at the Guantanamo Bay prison to resettle in Albania, declining to send them back to China because they might face persecution.
The State Department said Albania accepted the five ethnic Uighurs -- including two whose quest for freedom went all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court -- for resettlement as refugees. (...)
The U.S. Supreme Court declined on April 17 to consider whether a federal judge could free two of the five men -- Abu Bakker Qassim and A'del Abdu Al-Hakim -- even though the U.S. government had determined that they were not enemy combatants. A federal judge had found their continued detention unlawful.
Barbara Olshansky, a lawyer for the New York-based Center for Constitutional Rights representing the two men, said their case was due to be heard again in court on Monday. Olshansky said the U.S. government's decision to send them to Albania was made "to avoid having to answer in court for keeping innocent men in jail."
"We had no idea they were going to Albania. We didn't have any time to get anything on the ground to assist them with resettlement or to find out about whether they are trying to send them into some kind of detention," Olshansky said."
Two of the five are Abu Bakker Qassim and A'del Abdu al-Hakim, the detainees I have written about here, here, here, and here. Now, after more than four and a half years in prison, they would appear to be free to see their families, including children they have never met, and to try to put their lives back together again.
I imagine it would be odd to be a Uighur in Albania. Still, it has to be worlds better than being locked up at Guantanamo, trying to make sense of the fact that over a year after you have been found not to be an enemy combatant, you are still in prison, and wondering when, if ever, you will be released.
Arguments in the Uighurs' appeal were scheduled to be heard on Monday morning. (I was going to go to DC to hear them.) I wish I could think it was just a coincidence that after over a year of searching, the administration found a country willing to take the Uighurs today. But I can't. This administration has built up quite a track record of freeing people (or, in Jose Padilla's case, bringing unrelated charges) just in time to render their appeals moot, thereby preventing the courts from finding their conduct illegal or unconstitutional.
They held Yaser Hamdi for years without charges, on the grounds that he was a dangerous terrorist who did not need to be tried, and then, when the Supreme Court claimed that he had a right to contest his imprisonment in a neutral forum, they abruptly released him to Saudi Arabia. After accusing Jose Padilla of planning to detonate a dirty bomb (but not charging him with that or any other crime), and after keeping him locked up as an enemy combatant, the government charged him with unrelated crimes just in time to avoid defending his detention before the Supreme Court.
In both cases, the government had claimed that it was vital to our national security to keep these men in prison without charges -- so vital that it was worth scrapping both the plain meaning of the fifth and sixth amendments to the Constitution and centuries of legal tradition in order to hold them as uncharged enemy combatants. Oddly enough, however, keeping Hamdi locked up and Padilla uncharged was less important than keeping the Bush administration's supposed right to detain United States citizens without charges, indefinitely, from being challenged in court. It's an interesting set of priorities.
Now, right before the Uighurs' case comes before the DC Circuit Court, the government has found a way to moot this appeal as well. If the Bush administration's lawyers and policy makers had the courage of their convictions, they would not be afraid to make their case in court, on the merits.
Still, I am happier than I can say that Abu Bakker Qassim and A'del Abdu Al-Hakim are free, and I wish them and their families every possible happiness.