Florida welcome awaits Guantanamo prisoners from China

TALLAHASSEE -- The Rev. Brant Copeland never heard of a Uighur before Guantanamo. Neither had Imam Naeem Harris, this city's Muslim spiritual leader. Nor had Rabbi Jack Romberg.

Now the men have forged a community effort to settle three of the 17 Uighurs -- men from a Muslim minority in China -- whom a federal judge ruled were held for years in a legal limbo while mislabeled as enemies at the prison camps at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.

At first blush, this southern capital city of 160,000 seems an unlikely destination for war-on-terror detainees from a faraway place: Spanish moss clings to centuries-old oak trees. The soundtrack at the airport plinks, Give Me That Old Time Religion.

The city has only two mosques, and not a single Uighur (pronounced WEE-gurr).

Still, people here are preparing to embrace the Uighurs, men who fled northwestern China in the '90s. Restaurant kitchen jobs have been found, and an apartment awaits, along with healthcare and volunteers to carpool the men.

In doing so, the community plunged itself into a court battle between lawyers for the men who were captured by U.S. allies fleeing Tora Bora, Afghanistan, in 2001 and the Bush administration, which is fighting a judge's order to release the men. An appeals court temporarily blocked the release last week.

''The executive branch has made a determination that these individuals . . . should not be admitted to the United States,'' said Dean Boyd, a national security spokesman at the Department of Justice.

Boyd noted that, at Guantanamo, the men ''admitted receiving weapons training at military training camps'' in Afghanistan.

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