It was announced last night that 6 Chinese nationals landed in the Pacific territory of Palau to settle in their new home. The 6 are part of a total group of 17 Chinese held in Guantanamo bay since 2001. From the far western, largely Muslim, province of Xinjiang, the men were captured by bounty hunters after reportedly fleeing repression. Initially travelling to Afghanistan, where American sources claim they received terrorist training, they attempted to move into Pakistan when the war began and were handed over to coalition forces.
Despite being held in the detention centre since 2001, no charges have been passed against the men, and their innocence has been confirmed by various bodies. As early as 2003, the Pentagon quietly decided that the men posed no risk to the U.S. and their classification as ‘enemy combatants’ was inaccurate. Five of the men were found to have merely been, ‘in the wrong place at the wrong time,’ and entirely innocent, whilst the other 12 were alleged to have sought weapons to fight the Chinese government. It should be noted that even the charges against these 12 have been denied by all of them and judgements have never been passed against them.
Although top U.S. officials realised 6 years ago that the men could viably be released, it was not until June of this year that the first of the group left the detention centre. The men testified that they refused a Chinese delegation to Guantanamo Bay which sought to repatriate and imprison them. These claims are borne out by reports from U.S. officials who claimed that to return the men would be to risk their torture or even execution.  Instead they have languished in prison, enduring the same standards applied to other suspects including being chained to the floor with shackles.
The plight of the men had become an embarrassing element to the continuing saga of the controversial camp for a number of years. State Department officials had reportedly begun as early as 2003 to search for an appropriate country willing to receive the men. Events took a more sudden turn in late 2008 when a Washington court ruled that the men should be brought in to the U.S. so they could be formally released on U.S. soil. The release of a party of innocent men, held for 7 years in the nation’s capital was an understandably embarrassing prospect. The Justice Department of the Bush Administration filed emergency requests overnight to revoke the order, claiming that the court did not have the right to admit aliens. The appeal was granted, ignoring the fact that the Justice Department is the only party with the authority to allow entry for trial.
In February of this year, the case took a more disappointing turn, when the appeal was heard a Federal Appeals Court. The 3 judge team found in a 2:1 majority that there was, ‘no legal or constitutional authority,’ for the immediate release of the men, even though they were, ‘unlawfully detained.’ That such a legal loophole can be conveniently created, is testament to the desperation of the U.S. authorities to avoid embarrassment to their counterterrorist operations. The men have continued to suffer from a smear campaign in both public and press spheres. Despite official reports confirming their innocence, the government continued to criticize their prospective freedom as a threat to national security. Other flimsy arguments have been contrived including the claim that the re-offending of other released prisoners undermines the Chinese group’s alleged innocence.
In June 2009 Bermuda’s Prime Minister Ewart Brown agreed to take some of the men temporarily before they could be found a more permanent home. Even for this modest concession, he was forced to stand against the UK government. As a crown dependency, whose foreign policy falls to UK authority, Bermuda was operating unconstitutionally. Especially since the UK had refused entry for the Chinese nationals within Britain.
The location of Palau as a possible final home for the men seems slightly more hopeful. The territory is one of only a handful of countries around the world which still refuse to recognise China (instead recognizing Taiwan). As such their offer of refuge to the men will give them a political victory, and hopefully an incentive to maintain their safety. This may finally end the embarrassing story for U.S. officials and provide the men with an opportunity to recover their lives.