WASHINGTON, June 23 (Reuters) - A federal appeals court on
Monday overturned a U.S. military tribunal's enemy combatant
designation for a Chinese Muslim at the Guantanamo Bay prison,
its first ruling that gives a detainee a chance for release.
It ordered the U.S government to release or transfer
Huzaifa Parhat, a member of the Uighur ethnic group, or to
"expeditiously" hold a new military tribunal for him.
Parhat, who was captured in Afghanistan and who has been
imprisoned at Guantanamo Bay in Cuba for six years, is one of
several Uighurs still at the prison. The United States has
struggled to find a country willing to accept the Uighurs.
In 2006, the United States allowed five Chinese Muslims
released from Guantanamo to seek asylum in Albania. The U.S.
government has said it cannot return the Uighurs to China
because they would face persecution there.
Many Muslim Uighurs, who are from Xinjiang in far western
China, seek greater autonomy for the region and some want
independence. Beijing has waged a relentless campaign against
what it calls the violent separatist activities of the Uighurs.
The ruling by the three-judge panel was under the Detainee
Treatment Act of 2005 that gave the prisoners a limited review
before the appeals court of their designation as an enemy
The court also said Parhat can seek his immediate release
before a U.S. District judge under the Supreme Court's landmark
ruling this month that the detainees have the legal right to
challenge their years-long confinement.
A key issue in the Parhat case was whether he had been
involved in any activity that would justify designating him as
an enemy combatant.
The government argued that Parhat was trained by a group
called the East Turkestan Islamic Movement and that it has
links to al Qaeda. That was enough to hold him, it said.
Parhat's lawyers said he considered China, not the United
States, the enemy, and that there was no evidence that he ever
joined the group.
There are about 270 detainees at the U.S. military base at
Guantanamo, which was set up in January of 2002 to hold
terrorism suspects captured after the Sept. 11 attacks. Most of
the prisoners have been held for years without being charged
and many have complained of abuse.
More than 190 of the prisoners have filed challenges with
the U.S. appeals court in Washington to the decisions by the
military tribunals that they have been properly held as enemy
In April, Parhat's case was the first to be heard by a
civilian appeals court.
In a one-paragraph notice summarizing its ruling, the
three-judge appeals court panel said it issued its opinion on
June 20 to both sides in the Parhat case.
Because the ruling contained classified information and
information the government initially submitted in secret, a
redacted public version will be made available later, it said.