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US to transfer up to 8 Uighur Guantanamo detainees to Palau

[JURIST] US Solicitor General Elena Kagan [official profile] told the Supreme Court [official website] in a letter [text, PDF] filed Thursday that the US plans to transfer up to eight Uighur Guantanamo Bay detainees [JURIST news archive] to Palau and that six have already agreed to the transfer. According to the letter, the government of Palau is willing to accept 12 of the 13 Uighurs still at Guantanamo. Kagan wrote:

On September 16 2009, the Department of State notified Congress in a classified submission that the U.S. government intends to transfer eight of the petitioners to Palau, with the transfer to occur no earlier than October 1. Although the Department of State hopes that all eight of these individuals will agree to be resettled in Palau, at this point six of them have made that commitment. Discussions with the remaining two of the eight petitioners are ongoing. The U.S. government has every reason to believe that at least six of the petitioners shortly will be resettled in Palau, although it is impossible to be certain until they actually board the plane. The date on which the plane is scheduled to depart Guantanamo for Palau is classified.

She added that the "United States is working diligently to find an appropriate place to resettle the remaining Uighur detainees."

In June, the Supreme Court closed its 2008 term without deciding whether to hear the case [JURIST report] of the remaining 13 Uighur Muslims at Guantanamo. The Court did not provide a reason for delaying its decision, but court watchers believe that it may have been based on a desire to avoid interference with a potential diplomatic solution. If the remaining Uighurs are transferred overseas before the Court decides to hear their case, it will likely be dismissed as moot. If not, the Court may reach a decision on whether to take the case in October when the 2009 term begins. Also in June, four of the Uighurs were transferred to Bermuda [JURIST report]. The Uighurs' release was ordered [opinion and order, PDF; JURIST report] by a US district court in October, but that decision was overturned [opinion, PDF; JURIST report] in February by the US Court of Appeals for the DC Circuit [official website]. The Chinese government has repeatedly demanded the repatriation of the Uighurs, maintaining that they are members of the East Turkestan Islamic Movement (ETIM) [CFR backgrounder], a militant group that calls for separation from China and has been a US-designated terrorist group since 2002. The US has previously rejected China's calls to repatriate [JURIST report] the Uighurs, citing fear of torture upon their return.

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