Guantanamo Attorneys to Congress: Resettle Imprisoned Refugees

WASHINGTON, D.C. — In a first-of-its-kind hearing, Center for Constitutional Rights (CCR) attorney Emi MacLean and other Guantanamo attorneys today told Representatives on the House Foreign Affairs Subcommittee on International Organizations, Human Rights and Oversight about the imperative of resettling refugees currently imprisoned at the Guantanamo Bay detention center.

The U.S. government cannot legally return dozens of these refugees – many of whom the U.S. cleared for release months or years ago – to their home countries for fear these men may be tortured or otherwise persecuted upon their return.

Said CCR attorney Emi MacLean, “The U.S. has the opportunity to show the world that there is a right way and a wrong way to treat refugees – by finding them a home where they can enjoy the most basic of freedoms. It’s a disgrace these men even ended up in U.S. hands to begin with. But despite years of abuse in the world’s most notorious prison, that’s not the end of the story for these refugees. Now we have the opportunity – and the obligation – to settle them in a country that upholds human rights and give them the freedom they deserve.”

Included in that group are 17 Uyghur (WEE-gur) prisoners from western China, who, after fleeing persecution in their native country, were sold for a bounty to U.S. forces soon after the coalition’s military campaign began there more than six years ago. The U.S. government has publicly acknowledged that the Uyghur men at the Cuban base are not terrorists; indeed, all but one have been officially cleared for release.

Other refugees still imprisoned at Guantanamo are from Libya, Tunisia, Algeria, Uzbekistan and Syria. There are approximately 50 refugees at Guantánamo now who cannot safely be repatriated.

MacLean called on the committee to intervene to transfer these men out of solitary confinement and into better conditions at the prison as a first step. She also called on the committee to seek refugee status determinations from the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees or to consider these men for asylum in the United States.

Attorneys Steven Oleskey, Beth Gilson and Michael Mone spoke about the prolonged imprisonment of their clients, and their deterioration in abhorrent conditions simply because the United States has refused to accept these men into the country or find another suitable solution for them. Oleskey represents the six Bosnian-Algerians who are currently plaintiffs in the Guantánamo case pending before the Supreme Court, Boumediene v. Bush; Gilson represents some of the Uyghurs imprisoned at Guantánamo; and Mone represents an Uzbek.

This is the first Congressional hearing on this issue and was called by the Subcommittee Chair Rep. Bill Delahunt (D-MA).

“The damage from Guantanamo goes well beyond the pain and suffering of these individuals and their families. It has dealt a severe blow to America’s image in the world that will take decades to overcome,” Rep. Delahunt said. “It is time for our government to correct these mistakes and design a system that reflects our values and embraces the rule of law.”

The International Organizations, Human Rights and Oversight Subcommittee will hear further testimony on the resettlement of Guantanamo refugees on May 20.

For detailed profiles of Guantanamo’s refugees and a copy of today’s testimony, go to the CCR Guantanamo refugee page.

CCR has led the legal battle over Guantanamo for the last six years – sending the first ever habeas attorney to the base and sending the first attorney to meet with a former CIA “ghost detainee.” CCR has been responsible for organizing and coordinating more than 500 pro bono lawyers across the country in order to represent the men at Guantanamo, ensuring that nearly all have the option of legal representation. CCR represented the detainees with co-counsel in the most recent argument before the Supreme Court on December 5, 2007.

CCR staff attorney Emi MacLean works with the Guantánamo Global Justice Initiative on litigation involving executive detention, secret prisons and transfers-to-torture. She helps coordinate the pro bono attorneys representing the hundreds of men still detained at Guantánamo and supports CCR’s direct representation of a number of current detainees.

The Center for Constitutional Rights works with communities under threat to fight for justice and liberation through litigation, advocacy, and strategic communications. Since 1966, the Center for Constitutional Rights has taken on oppressive systems of power, including structural racism, gender oppression, economic inequity, and governmental overreach. Learn more at


Last modified 

December 17, 2009