The Obama administration says at least six, and as many as eight, Chinese Muslims held at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, will soon leave their island prison for freedom in another island nation, Palau.
Word of the upcoming transfer to the tiny Pacific country, planned for sometime after Oct. 1, came in a letter released Thursday from Solicitor General Elena Kagan to the Supreme Court. Kagan also confirmed that Palau has agreed to accept all but one of the 13 Chinese Muslims, or Uighurs (pronounced WEE'-gurs), who remain at Guantanamo.
Kagan's letter was intended to demonstrate that the administration was the process of moving the Uighurs out of Guantanamo and that the Supreme Court thus would not need to review a challenge over their detention.
Six Uighur detainees have agreed to the transfer and attempts to persuade two others are ongoing, Kagan wrote.
"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," Kagan said.
The exact date of departure is classified, she added.
In a separate letter to the court, Sabin Willett, a lawyer representing the Uighurs, said one of the 13, Arkin Mahmud, has not been offered a chance to resettle in Palau. "No nation has offered him refuge," Willett said.
Susan Baker Manning, another of the Uighurs' attorneys, said she was pleased that Palau is accepting some of the men.
"Unfortunately, it won't solve the problem of the Uighur detainees at Guantanamo Bay, but it is a generous act as far as it goes," she said.
The men have been held by the U.S. since their capture in Afghanistan and Pakistan in 2001. The Pentagon determined last year they were not "enemy combatants" but they have been in legal limbo ever since. China regards the Uighurs, Turkic Muslims from far western China, as terrorist suspects and wants them returned.
But Uighur activists claim the detainees face persecution or death if they are returned there, and U.S. officials have struggled to find a country to take them in.
Palau offered them a home in June.
Four other Uighur detainees are now in Bermuda.