The Obama administration sent three ethnic Uighur Muslim captives from Guantanamo to Slovakia on Monday, ending one of the saddest and longest-running chapters of unlawful detention at the U.S. prison camps in Cuba. Yusef Abbas, 38, Hajiakbar Abdulghuper, 39, and Saidullah Khalik, 36, left the remote U.S. Navy base in a secret operation, according to U.S. government sources. They had spent about a dozen years in U.S. military custody. [...] The three men were the last of 17 Chinese citizens who a federal judge ruled in 2008 were unlawfully detained at Guantanamo after the Bush administration abandoned an argument that they were "enemy combatants," the U.S. term for prisoners of the war on terror.
There's no shortage of tragic stories surrounding the detention facility at Guantanamo Bay, but the case of the Uighurs has long been a uniquely appalling tale.
As long-time readers may recall, members of the ethnic Uighur Muslim minority in western China fled to Afghanistan in 2001 to escape Chinese repression. After 9/11, the Bush/Cheney administration held nearly two dozen captured Uighurs at Guantanamo, citing secret evidence that later proved baseless.
The Uighurs, who were never enemy combatants and were fully cleared, but found themselves stuck at the detention facility anyway, in part because Congress and the Supreme Court prevented their transfer to American soil, and in part because U.S. officials knew returning them to China would mean further persecution, if not execution. Carol Rosenberg reports this morning that, at long last, the remaining detained Uighurs have finally departed the island.
Charlie Savage has a related report, noting that the Pentagon is calling this a "significant milestone" in the effort to close the prison at Guantanamo Bay altogether.
Update: Adam Serwer had a good piece on this, helping highlight the larger context: "Five years after Obama signed an executive order authorizing the closure of the Guantanamo Bay detention camp, it remains open, because of a political backlash that began with men everyone knew were innocent."