Thursday, April 30, 2009

Europe Seen Willing To Take Detainees

Europe Seen Willing To Take Detainees
Holder 'Pleasantly Surprised' by Allies

Washington Post Foreign Service
Thursday, April 30, 2009

BERLIN, April 29 -- Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr. said Wednesday that he was "pleasantly surprised" at the willingness of some European allies to resettle prisoners from Guantanamo Bay and that the United States was close to making formal requests for European countries to accept specific prisoners.

European leaders have praised President Obama's promise to close the military prison at Guantanamo in Cuba by January, but they have been slow to respond to his pleas for help in emptying the detention center. Since Obama took office 100 days ago, Britain has received one prisoner and France has promised to take another, but no other European country has made any firm commitments.

In a speech at the American Academy in Berlin, Holder urged European nations to help absorb the burden of closing Guantanamo by accepting prisoners deemed not to present a security threat.

"I know that Europe did not open Guantanamo and that in fact a great many on this continent opposed it," he said. "To close Guantanamo, we must all make sacrifices, and we must all be willing to make unpopular choices."

Holder said the Obama administration has cleared about 30 prisoners for release as soon as U.S. officials can find places to send them. That figure is expected to rise as Justice Department and other officials review the status of all 241 inmates at Guantanamo. Obama has put Holder in charge of closing the prison.

Although Obama has won support in Europe for his stance on Guantanamo, some European officials and civil liberties groups are pressing him to hold Bush administration officials legally accountable for the harsh treatment of terrorism suspects.

In Madrid, a Spanish investigating magistrate announced Wednesday that he has opened a wide-ranging criminal investigation into what he called "a systemic plan of torture" at Guantanamo and other places where the U.S. government held terrorism suspects after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks.

Judge Baltasar Garzón said his probe was based largely on complaints filed by four former prisoners at Guantanamo who were transferred to Spain. But in court papers, he also said his investigation was prompted by the release of secret U.S. legal opinions authorizing the CIA to subject terrorism suspects to waterboarding and other tactics.

Spain and some other European countries have adopted laws giving themselves authority to investigate torture, genocide and other human rights crimes anywhere in the world. Although it is rare for prosecutors to win such cases, those targeted can face arrest if they travel abroad.

Shortly before Garzón's Guantanamo probe was made public Wednesday, Holder was asked by reporters if the United States would cooperate with international efforts to investigate or prosecute Bush administration officials.

Holder did not rule it out. "Obviously, we would look at any request that would come from a court in any country and see how and whether we should comply with it," he said. "This is an administration that is determined to conduct itself by the rule of law."

Holder told reporters the United States was making progress in negotiations with European leaders over Guantanamo prisoners, but he declined to give details on how many inmates might end up in Europe or in which countries.

He said U.S. officials would soon make formal requests to individual countries to resettle specific inmates. Though he did not provide an exact timetable, he said the requests would come in "weeks, not months."

After a three-day European tour during which he met with officials in London, Prague and Berlin, Holder said he was "pleasantly surprised" at the number of countries willing to consider taking prisoners. "We haven't received as many definite no's as I might have expected," he said.

British officials, for example, appeared to soften their position in recent days. During Holder's visit to London, Justice Secretary Jack Straw said Britain would consider taking some prisoners. "We will do our best to help," Straw said.

In February, Britain accepted one prisoner, an Ethiopian citizen who had lived in the United Kingdom. But at the time, British officials had said they would accept only one other Guantanamo inmate: Shaker Aamer, a Saudi citizen and former British resident captured in Afghanistan in January 2002. Pentagon officials have opposed releasing Aamer.

Of the 241 prisoners remaining in Guantanamo, about 100 are Yemenis, but U.S. officials are reluctant to allow them to return home because Yemen has a history of allowing al-Qaeda suspects to escape from prison. An undetermined number of other inmates will face trial in U.S. civilian courts, Holder said.

While Holder declined to say how many prisoners he hopes Europe will accept, other U.S. officials and human rights groups have put the number at about 60. Portugal, Ireland, Switzerland, Spain and Lithuania have said they are willing to resettle inmates but are not expected to take more than three or four each, according to European officials.

During a meeting with Obama this month, French President Nicolas Sarkozy said his country had agreed to resettle one prisoner; U.S. officials want France to take more.

Although French officials have not publicly disclosed the identity of the prisoner in question, other European officials and human rights groups said he is Lakhdar Boumediene, an Algerian citizen who was captured by the U.S. military in Sarajevo in 2001.

Germany has sent mixed signals. Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier has said Germany has a "responsibility" to resettle prisoners as part of an international effort to close Guantanamo. But Interior Minister Wolfgang Schaeuble has said he is opposed. Holder met with Schaeuble on Wednesday in Berlin but declined to comment on the talks.

Swedish court secures ex-Guantánamo Uighur's asylum quest

Adil Hakimjan, a Uighur freed from Guantánamo prison in 2006, and his attorney, Sten De Geer, in Stockholm, Sweden.
Johannes Lindgren

Swedish court secures ex-Guantánamo Uighur's asylum quest
Adil Hakimjan, the first freed Guantánamo prisoner to be granted asylum in Europe, says he is 'very happy.' President Obama called Friday for seven of the 17 remaining Uighurs at the prison to be released.
By Ritt Goldstein | Contributor

from the April 30, 2009 edition

Dalarna, Sweden - On Wednesday, a Swedish court upheld the asylum bid of a Uighur freed from Guantánamo prison in 2006.

Adil Hakimjan, a former merchant, this February became the first of Guantánamo's ex-detainees to avoid return to their homeland and instead be granted asylum in the European Union.

The asylum grant was challenged, but Wednesday's action ensures Mr. Hakimjan will be allowed to stay in his adopted home of Sweden.

"I'm very happy. I can start my new life," an elated Hakimjan said Thursday morning, speaking through a translator. "Sweden is a very good country."

Taking a more somber tone, he then observed, "I hope the world now realizes I'm not a dangerous person and that my friends are not, as well," referring to the 17 Uighurs cleared of wrongdoing by the Bush administration in September 2008, but yet remaining in Guantánamo prison.

In March 2005, Hakimjan was himself cleared of any wrongdoing by a US military tribunal. He had left China in 1999, a victim of what Amnesty International recently termed "harsh repression of ethnic Uighurs," but in the aftermath of 9/11, his journey led not to freedom but into the hands of a bounty hunter in Pakistan and, eventually, the US terror prison at Guantánamo. (For the full story on Hakimjan's journey, click here.)

On Friday, the Obama administration announced plans to resettle seven of Guantánamo's 17 remaining Uighurs – a Turkic, largely Muslim people centered in China's Xinjiang province – within the US. But just as the White House decision prompted criticism from some in the US and China, Sweden's decision in February to grant Hakimjan asylum also had its detractors.

Sweden's Migration Board earlier said "there's no possibility" under Swedish law for Hakimjan to receive asylum, adding that Sweden's Migration Court had "totally misjudged the case," and so explained the basis for their legal appeal against Hakimjan's asylum grant.

On Wednesday, the Appeals Court refused to hear the case, effectively contradicting the Migration Board assertions and upholding the original court decision.

The Migration Board declined to comment upon the decision.

Sten De Geer, Hakimjan's attorney, also declined to comment on the Migration Board's challenge to his client's quest for asylum. He said that he was "very happy Adil's 10-year ordeal is ended."

Hakimjan hopes his wife and children, still in China, will someday be able to join him, Mr. De Geer says, adding that the reunification, "of course, depends upon the decisions made by the Chinese authorities."

China sees the Guantánamo Uighurs as suspected "domestic terrorists," and has pressured Sweden not to grant Hakimjan protection. China has also pressured the US to return Guantánamo's Uighurs to China, which Washington – noting the persecution they would likely suffer – has refused.

A request to China's Stockholm embassy for comment on Wednesday's Court action went unanswered. A spokesperson for the Chinese embassy here had earlier explained China's opposition to those who support political autonomy for Uighurs. No government, the spokesperson said, "wants fragmentation of its own state."

The Chinese government has previously asked for Hakimjan's asylum bid to be denied.

Julia Hall, former senior legal counsel at Human Rights Watch and a recognized authority on national security law and counterterrorism policy, says Wednesday's decision to uphold Hakimjan's asylum "is what every single European government should be doing – they should not be caving in to Chinese pressure, they should be making an independent assessment."

Ms. Hall says the decision is "very important for other European governments who are considering giving Guantánamo Uighurs a safe home."

Hints That Detainees May Be Held on U.S. Soil

Hints That Detainees May Be Held on U.S. Soil

Published: April 30, 2009

WASHINGTON — As many as 100 detainees at the prison at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba, could end up held without trial on American soil, Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates suggested Thursday, a situation that he acknowledged would create widespread if not unanimous opposition in Congress.

The estimate was the most specific yet from the Obama administration about how many of the 241 prisoners at Guantánamo could not be safely released, sent to other countries or appropriately tried in American courts. In January, President Obama ordered the prison closed by the end of the year, but his administration is still trying to decide what to do with the detainees.

Mr. Gates said discussions had started this week with the Justice Department about determining how many of the Guantánamo detainees could not be sent to other countries or tried in courts. He did not say which detainees might be in that group, but independent experts have said it probably would include terrorism suspects whom the military has not yet brought charges against, among them detainees from Yemen and the Qaeda figure Abu Zubaydah, who was subjected to brutal interrogation in secret prisons run by the Central Intelligence Agency.

“What do we do with the 50 to 100 — probably in that ballpark — who we cannot release and cannot try?” Mr. Gates said in a hearing before the Senate Appropriations Committee.

He did not say whether the detainees would be imprisoned temporarily or indefinitely or under what law they would be held. The Obama administration is debating how to establish a legal basis for incarcerating detainees deemed too dangerous to be released but not appropriate to be tried because of potential problems posed by their harsh interrogations, the evidence against them or other issues.

Some Republicans have become increasingly vocal in asserting that the administration has not come up with a viable alternative to the Guantánamo prison at the American naval base in Cuba.

“The question of where the terrorists at Guantánamo will be sent is no joking matter,” Senator Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, the Republican leader, said in a statement on Thursday. “The administration needs to tell the American people how it will keep the terrorists at Guantánamo out of our neighborhoods and off of the battlefield.”

At the hearing, Mr. Gates said he had asked for $50 million in supplemental financing in case a facility needed to be built quickly for the detainees. He did not specify what kind of facility or where it might be, but he acknowledged that it would be unpopular in most places.

“I fully expect to have 535 pieces of legislation before this is over saying ‘not in my district, not in my state,’ ” Mr. Gates said. “We’ll just have to deal with that when the time comes.”

On Wednesday in Berlin, Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr. said the legal basis for holding any detainees was still under review.

“We have to determine what would be our basis for holding that person that would to the world appear to be fair and that would in fact be fair,” he said. “How could you ensure that due process was being served by the detention of such a person?”

Mr. Holder added that the questions were “difficult ones, but they’re not unanswerable,” and that the solutions should be “as broadly accepted as we possibly can make them.”

Members of Congress were already pleading with Mr. Gates on Thursday not to send the detainees to their states. “Please not at Leavenworth,” said Senator Sam Brownback, Republican of Kansas. “This is a hot topic in my state.”

Mr. Obama’s aides have long said the most difficult problem in closing Guantánamo was figuring out what to do with the group of detainees who cannot be released or tried.

A debate persists among national security and legal scholars about whether such a group could be held under the international law of warfare, which allows governments to hold enemy fighters until the end of a conflict, or whether the administration should ask Congress to enact a law that would allow what legal experts call preventive detention.

The Pentagon press secretary, Geoff Morrell, said Mr. Gates’s request for $50 million was a just-in-case budget entry should something have to be done with the group this fiscal year.

“If it were determined that we need to house any number of these detainees stateside,” Mr. Morrell said, “there would have to be at the very least adjustments made to existing military facilities.”

Elisabeth Bumiller reported from Washington, and William Glaberson from New York.

Wednesday, April 29, 2009

EU Should Help Close Guantanamo by Resettling Detainees

EU Should Help Close Guantanamo by Resettling Detainees
US Attorney General Can Speed Process by Taking in Uighurs
April 29, 2009

European countries have long called on the United States to close Guantanamo. Now that the Obama administration is trying to do so, they should help make that happen by resettling some detainees.

Stacy Sullivan, counterterrorism advisor

(Washington DC) - European countries should help the Obama administration close the Guantanamo Bay prison by offering to resettle some detainees who face torture at home, Human Rights Watch said today. US Attorney General Eric Holder is in Europe this week to discuss Guantanamo resettlement and other issues.

"European countries have long called on the United States to close Guantanamo," said Stacy Sullivan, counterterrorism adviser at Human Rights Watch. "Now that the Obama administration is trying to do so, they should help make that happen by resettling some detainees."

Of the approximately 240 prisoners still being held at Guantanamo, an estimated 50 to 60 - from countries such as Algeria, Libya, China, Tunisia, and Uzbekistan - have told their lawyers that they fear torture in their home countries and do not want to be returned there. Several have been cleared for years to leave Guantanamo, and none of them faces criminal charges, but they remain imprisoned because neither the United States nor any third country has been willing to resettle them.

Several European governments have expressed a willingness to resettle some of these detainees, although only if the United States first takes in some. According to media reports, the Obama administration is preparing to allow seven Chinese Uighur detainees to settle in the United States.

"The US would be in a much better position to convince European countries to resettle Guantanamo detainees if it agreed to take in some of the Uighurs," said Sullivan.

There are currently 17 Chinese Uighurs in custody at Guantanamo, most of whom have been cleared to leave Guantanamo since 2004, but were not returned to China due to credible fears that they would be tortured."

In 2006, Albania agreed to resettle eight Guantanamo detainees who feared being returned to their home countries, including five Uighurs. In addition, some 27 former detainees who were citizens or former residents of European Union member states have been returned to Belgium, Denmark, France, Germany, Spain, Sweden, and the United Kingdom. Thirteen detainees who were citizens or former residents were released to other European countries. None are known to have engaged in militant or other violent activity.

"If every EU country would agree to resettle two or three detainees, the hardest part of the Guantanamo problem would be solved," said Sullivan.

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Holder close to making decision on Gitmo detainees

Holder close to making decision on Gitmo detainees

By DEVLIN BARRETT – 1 day ago

LONDON (AP) — The United States is "relatively close" to making decisions on what to do with an initial group of Guantanamo Bay detainees, U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder said Sunday.

Holder spoke to The Associated Press during a flight to London, the first of several stops where he will visit with European leaders to discuss terrorism, drugs, and cyber-crime.

The attorney general did not say how much longer he thought it would take to close the Guantanamo Bay detention facility in Cuba. Before officials can meet President Barack Obama's January deadline, the U.S. must first decide which detainees to put on trial and which to release to the U.S. or other countries.

Holder said the first step is to decide how many total detainees will be set free.

"We're doing these all on a rolling basis," he said. "I think we're probably relatively close to making some calls."

The attorney general has called the Guantanamo work the toughest part of his job.

After eight years in which the previous Bush administration alienated European nations over issues like the Iraq war and Guantanamo Bay, the Obama administration is trying to strengthen those ties.

"I don't think they're looking for as much of American leadership as a partnership," said Holder.

After arriving in London on Sunday night, the attorney general and his staffers took a tour of the Tower of London — home of The Bloody Tower, a historic torture site.

The tower visit is standard fare for tourists, but one loaded with extra meaning for Holder, who listened quietly to tales of torture, execution and palace intrigue.

The Obama administration is edging toward taking some Guantanamo prisoners to the U.S., most likely to Virginia. They are Chinese Muslims known as Uighurs, and their supporters say they never should have been at Guantanamo in the first place.

Republicans in Congress say Guantanamo should remain in operation and are mobilizing to fight the release of detainees into the United States.

Against that backdrop, Holder hoped to reassure skeptical Europeans without generating too much public opposition back home. After meetings in London and Prague, the attorney general is to give a speech Wednesday night in Berlin about Guantanamo.

Austria's interior minister, Maria Fekter, has insisted her country would not take any prisoners. "If the detainees are no longer dangerous, why don't they stay in the U.S.?" she asked.

Simon Koschut, an associate fellow with the German Council on Foreign Relations in Berlin, spoke of the difficulty facing Holder in trying to find a consensus among European leaders.

"In Germany, many are asking why America isn't taking care of its own business. If you started it, you ought to finish it," Koschut said.

There are about 240 Guantanamo inmates. As many as 60, if freed, cannot go back to their homelands because they could face abuse, imprisonment or death. They are from Azerbaijan, Algeria, Afghanistan, Chad, China, Saudi Arabia and Yemen.

Several European nations, including Portugal and Lithuania, have said they will consider taking such detainees. Others are less interested and don't want their neighbors to accept any prisoners either, because of the ease of travel within the European Union.

In some nations are internal divisions. Germany's foreign minister, Frank-Walter Steinmeier, has raised the possibility his country could take detainees, arguing that the camp's closure should not fail because the prisoners have nowhere to go. But Interior Minister Wolfgang Schaeuble has said the detainees are primarily a U.S. responsibility.

Given that debate, that's all the more reason, say some, for the U.S. to release some Guantanamo prisoners in the U.S. as quickly as possible to generate good will.

Currently, there are 17 Uighurs held at Guantanamo. In recent weeks, officials reinterviewed each of them in preparation for their eventual transfer. The government has cleared them for release, but insists it will not hand them over to China because the Uighurs fear they will be tortured.

The Uighurs were captured in Pakistan and Afghanistan in 2001. Uighurs are from Xinjiang, an isolated region that borders Afghanistan, Pakistan and six Central Asian nations. They say they have been repressed by the Chinese government. China has said that insurgents are leading an Islamic separatist movement.

Any country that takes them is likely to anger Beijing.

"No one else is going to do it. No one else is going to take that heat when they didn't create the problem. So we have to do it," said Sabin Willet, a lawyer for the Uighurs. "They need to unlock the door soon."

Some Republicans, though, want to keep the doors bolted.

"There is reason to believe (the Uighurs) are not as peaceful or as nonthreatening as the administration seems to be suggesting," said New York Rep. Peter King, the top Republican on the House Homeland Security Committee.

Britain would consider taking Gitmo detainees

Britain would consider taking Gitmo detainees

By DEVLIN BARRETT – 9 hours ago

LONDON (AP) — British Justice Secretary Jack Straw said Monday his country would consider taking Guantanamo Bay detainees if the United States asks for such help to close the detention facility.

Before Straw met with U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder, reporters asked the two officials about the possibility of Britain taking some inmates from Guantanamo.

"We will do our best to help and support the policy of the Obama administration to close Guantanamo Bay," Straw said. "If we're asked, of course we'll consider" accepting detainees, he said.

Holder said the U.S. had not made such a request yet. The attorney general said American officials are still determining how to handle the different groups of detainees before making requests to other countries.

A day earlier, Holder said the U.S. is close to making decisions on what to do with an initial group of the remaining 240 detainees held at Guantanamo. First, though, Obama administration officials must reach an agreement on how many of those should be released, how many should be put on trial, and what to do with those who fall into neither category.

The attorney general is visiting Europe this week to discuss Guantanamo and try to boost international cooperation on a range of subjects, including terrorism, organized crime and cyber crime.

He spent most of Monday in closed meetings with police and law enforcement officials, including those with MI5, Britain's intelligence agency.

Holder heads to Prague on Tuesday for a gathering of European justice officials to formalize extradition agreements designed to speed investigations that reach across borders and oceans.

After Prague, Holder plans to travel to Berlin for meetings and a speech about Guantanamo.

The Obama administration is edging toward bringing some Guantanamo prisoners to the U.S., most likely to Virginia. They are Chinese Muslims known as Uighurs, and their supporters say they never should have been at Guantanamo.

Seventeen Uighurs are held at Guantanamo. In recent weeks, officials reinterviewed them in preparation for their eventual transfer.

The Uighurs were captured in Pakistan and Afghanistan in 2001. Uighurs are from Xinjiang, an isolated region that borders Afghanistan, Pakistan and six Central Asian nations. They say they have been repressed by the Chinese government. China has said that insurgents are leading an Islamic separatist movement.

Any country that takes them is likely to anger Beijing.

Republicans in Congress say Guantanamo should remain in operation and are mobilizing to fight the release of any detainees into the United States.

Some European leaders argue that if the detainees are to be released anywhere, it should be in the United States.

There are about 240 inmates at Guantanamo. As many as 60, if freed, cannot go back to their homelands because they could face abuse, imprisonment or death. They are from Azerbaijan, Algeria, Afghanistan, Chad, China, Saudi Arabia and Yemen.

Several European nations, including Portugal and Lithuania, have said they will consider taking such detainees. Some nations, such as Germany, are divided on the issue.

Sunday, April 26, 2009

Guantanamo Uyghur Detainees: Coming to America?

Guantanamo Uyghur Detainees: Coming to America?
17 Ethnic Uyghurs Originally from China Might Soon Enter the United States
April 24, 2009

They've been in legal limbo since last year, but speculation is now swirling that some of the 17 Uyghurs held at the detention center at Guantanamo Bay could soon be released into the United States.
Photo: Chinese Muslim Detainees: Coming to America? 17 Ethnic Chinese Muslims, Known as Uighurs, Might Soon Enter the United States
This Department of Defense handout file photo shows US Army Military Police escorting a detainee to... Expand
This Department of Defense handout file photo shows US Army Military Police escorting a detainee to his cell in Camp X-Ray at Naval Base Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, during in-processing to the temporary detention facility. 17 Uyghur detainees also held at Guantanamo Bay have been in legal limbo since last year, but speculation is now swirling that some members of the of group could soon be released into the United States. Collapse
(Department of Defense/Press Association via AP)

Sources on Capitol Hill told ABC News' George Stephanopoulos Friday that Congressional leaders have been told that the men, ethnic Uyghurs originally from China, might be sent to the Virginia suburbs of Washington, D.C. The area is home to a small Uyghur community that has expressed willingness to take the men in.

The group of Uyghurs has spent seven years at Guantanamo Bay, though the U.S. government no longer considers them enemy combatants.

Nury Turkel, a former president of the Uyghur American Association, is a U.S.-trained lawyer who represents the detainees. He called the prospect of the Uyghurs' release "excellent news." However, he said, "I hope the men and Uyghur-American community won't end up disappointed like the previous times where we believed [the] Uyghurs' freedom was just a few days away."
George: Guantanamo Detainees to U.S.
Gitmo Detainees to Be Released Into U.S.?
No Freedom Yet For Chinese Muslims

Last October, a three-judge panel for the United States Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit blocked an order from a lower court to release the 17 Guantanamo detainees onto U.S. soil.

Sen. Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, the top Republican in the U.S. Senate, jumped on reports of the Uyghurs' upcoming release, saying in a statement Friday that he hopes the Obama administration would provide information to Congress and "a guarantee of safety for American citizens" before releasing "these terrorist-trained detainees onto the streets of a U.S. community."

McConnell asserted that the administration has not yet provided such assurances.

"There's a reason U.S. law prohibits the entry of anyone trained in a terrorist camp," he continued. "Why that law would be ignored to bring terrorist-trained detainees into American cities has not been answered by this administration."

But Turkel said "Americans should not be afraid of the Uyghur prisoners in Gitmo because they have no beef with Americans or hostility towards the U.S. Actually, they're grateful to the U.S. government for the freedom and opportunity that it has given to Uyghurs in here."

"They consider America as a natural ally in their struggle against communism and dictatorship."

It is believed that if the United States returned the men to China, they could be tortured.

Release of Detainees into the United States

Vice President Joe Biden told CBS News earlier this year that the administration "won't release people inside the United States because all but one, I believe, is not an American citizen, an American national."

But asked at Friday's White House press briefing about reports that up to seven of the Uyghurs could soon settle in the United States, Press Secretary Robert Gibbs declined to address their status.

"I have no announcements to make today on any individual cases about those that are currently being held there, except to tell you that the president issued, as you know, an order to close the facility within one year, and that that review is being undertaken now, to determine how to bring about swift justice for those that are there," Gibbs said.

Attorney General Eric Holder, who is leading the interagency panel tasked with reviewing the cases of the detainees held at Guantanamo, indicated earlier this month that the Uyghurs could be coming to the United States, but that the decision was not imminent.

A Justice Department statement issued Friday said that it's "not in a position to comment on the final disposition of the Uyghurs or any other detainee at Guantanamo Bay this time," but that a "comprehensive review of each detainee held at Guantanamo Bay" is underway as part of the implementation of President Obama's order to shutter the detention facility there.

The Guantanamo Review Task Force "is conducting a case-by-case analysis to determine the best available option for addressing each detainee, including the 17 Uyghurs," the statement concluded.

ABC News' Jake Tapper contributed to this report.

Friday, April 24, 2009

U.S. plans to accept several Chinese Muslims from Guantanamo

U.S. plans to accept several Chinese Muslims from Guantanamo
The Uighurs would be the first detainees from the prison to settle in America. Challenges are expected from China and within the U.S.

By Julian E. Barnes
April 24, 2009

Reporting from Washington -- The Obama administration is preparing to admit into the United States as many as seven Chinese Muslims who have been imprisoned at Guantanamo Bay in the first release of any of the detainees into this country, according to current and former U.S. officials.

Their release is seen as a crucial step to plans, announced by President Obama during his first week in office, to close the prison and relocate the detainees. Administration officials also believe that settling some of them in American communities will set an example, helping to persuade other nations to accept Guantanamo detainees too.

But the decision to release the Chinese Muslims, known as Uighurs, is not final and faces challenges from within the government, as well as likely public opposition. Among government agencies, the Homeland Security Department has registered concerns about the plan.

The move would also incense Chinese officials, who consider the Uighurs domestic terrorists and want those held at Guantanamo handed over for investigation. U.S. officials no longer consider the Chinese Muslims to be enemy combatants and fear they would be mistreated in China.

There are 17 Uighurs (pronounced WEE-gers) at Guantanamo. A U.S. official familiar with the discussions over their release said that as many as seven could be resettled in the U.S., possibly in two or more small groups.

Officials have not said where in the United States they might live. But many Uighur immigrants from China live in Washington's Virginia suburbs, and advocates have urged that the detainees be resettled near people who speak their language and are familiar with their customs.

The release would mark a dramatic turn in the history of the Guantanamo Bay facility, set up in Cuba by the Bush administration as an offshore prison beyond the reach of American law. Intended to hold alleged terrorists captured during the "war on terror," Guantanamo turned into an international symbol of U.S. overreach. At its peak, it held nearly 800 prisoners; about 250 remain.

The Uighurs are primarily from the northwestern steppes of China in a region officially called the Xinjiang Uighur Autonomous Region but known to Uighurs as Turkestan. Beijing, which controls the area, has been criticized by Washington and others for repressing Uighur religious rights and freedoms.

The Uighurs were sent to Guantanamo in 2002 after being captured in Pakistan. Before that, they had gravitated to Afghanistan, where they received firearms training at a camp apparently run by a Uighur separatist.

Some former U.S. officials have said government information indicates that the Uighurs may pose a danger if released. But other officials and human rights organizations insist they pose no threat to Americans.

"It is kind of hard to tell other countries you would like them to accept some of these guys from Guantanamo if you are not willing to accept them," said the U.S. official, who described the internal discussions on condition of anonymity.

The release is a slap in the face to Beijing, which has requested that the Uighur prisoners be repatriated to China to stand trial for separatist activities. In their testimony before the Guantanamo tribunal, the Uighurs admitted that their purpose in going to Afghanistan was to receive military training to fight Chinese rule over Xinjiang.

"If these people are terrorists, they should be punished. If they are not terrorists, the United States should apologize to China for holding them so long and make compensation," said Zhang Jiadong, an expert in terrorism at Fudan University's Center for American Studies. Zhang said, however, that he did not expect the Chinese government to retaliate because it was already widely anticipated in Beijing that the United States would not return the Uighurs to China.

"The [Chinese] foreign ministry will criticize the decision, but there is nothing they can do about it. We're used to the United States being tough with us," Zhang said.

In captivity, the Uighurs filed suit to win their freedom. A U.S. district court in 2008 ordered their release. The decision, appealed by the Bush administration, was overturned by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia. Lawyers for the Uighurs appealed to the Supreme Court.

U.S. officials did not detail what supervision the Uighurs might receive once they are living on their own. But they said the Uighurs would be allowed to live freely.

In 2006, the U.S. released five Uighurs into Albania. After pressure from Beijing, which also urged other countries with Uighur communities not to accept the released detainees, Albania declined to take any more.

The Uighurs oppose the Chinese government but do not consider the U.S. government a direct enemy. Still, many of the Uighurs hold strict views of what is permitted under Islam.

Within the prison, Uighurs are not considered a grave threat and are allowed greater freedom, such as television privileges, than other detainees.

But the TV privileges underscored potential difficulties to come, according to one current and one former U.S. official. Not long after being granted access to TV, some of the Uighurs were watching a soccer game. When a woman with bare arms was shown on the screen, one of the group grabbed the television and threw it to the ground, according to the officials.

Since then, officials at Guantanamo have bolted down the TVs and shown pre-taped programs, editing out any images they thought Uighurs might find offensive.

U.S. officials said they expected any release of former Guantanamo Bay prisoners into the U.S. to generate opposition among Americans.

"It is a very emotional issue," said the official familiar with the internal discussions. "It is all about determining the risk of placing these people into American society."

But the Obama administration's plans reflect the view that, despite expected opposition, the Uighurs would be the easiest detainees to relocate in the U.S.

Sabin Willett, a lawyer for some of the Uighurs in Guantanamo, argued that his clients should be set free immediately. But he said officials should make sure that the Uighurs have some measure of protection from people who might mistakenly consider them a threat.

"I fear political opponents of the Obama administration will try to sow fear and paranoia about the Uighurs," Willett said. "Once America gets a look at our clients, all this mythology will fall away, and America will feel ashamed at the fact they were in prison so long."

U.S. officials have supported Chinese Uighurs who have sought asylum to remain here but are opposed to elements of the Uighur movement. Earlier this week, the Treasury Department froze the assets of a Uighur leader, Abdul Haq. Haq's Eastern Turkestan Islamic Party advocates secession from China and creation of an independent state.

In a statement, the Treasury Department focused on a threat by Haq to attack the 2008 Olympic Games in China, and cited his party's support for Al Qaeda. There have been no allegations that the Guantanamo detainees have been affiliated with Haq.

Human rights advocates read the move against Haq as a diplomatic olive branch to Beijing to blunt the fallout from releasing the Uighurs into the U.S.

Willett, the detainees' attorney, said that of the five former Uighur prisoners released to Albania, four are still there and one has moved to Sweden.

"They have been living peacefully for three years," Willett said.

Times staff writer Barbara Demick in Beijing contributed to this report.

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

China casts wide net to curb terrorism

China casts wide net to curb terrorism

Paul Mooney, Foreign Correspondent

Ethnic Uighur soldiers hold a banner for an official ceremony to remember the 16 Chinese police officers killed in an alleged terrorist attack.
Peter Parks / AFP Photo

KASHGAR, CHINA // The two men were marched into a public stadium in Kashgar on April 9, where 4,000 people watched as the final execution order was read out. They were then taken away and executed at an unknown location nearby. According to China’s state media, the two were guilty of carrying out a terrorist attack that left 16 police dead last August, just four days before the opening of the 2008 Olympics.

Officials said Abdurahman Azat, 34, and Krubanjan Hemit, 29, were members of the East Turkistan Islamic Movement (ETIM), a separatist group the government says has been behind a string of terrorist acts in Xinjiang.

Experts on Xinjiang say, however, that the organisation no longer exists, it never had more than two handfuls of members, and there is no evidence it was ever involved in terrorist attacks. Some argue it never existed at all.

The executions came as the Chinese launched a clampdown in the predominantly Uighur cities of Hotan and Kashgar, in southern Xinjiang, in which more than 100 Uighurs have been arrested in recent months, many on charges of engaging in unspecified “illegal religious activities”. The Uighurs, a Turkic-speaking Muslim group, have long bristled at Chinese control of Xinjiang, which they call East Turkistan.

According to state media, Wang Lequan, the Xinjiang party secretary, announced last month during a visit to the two cities they were at the “forefront of the fight against the three evil forces of terrorism, extremism and separatism”.

The campaign lends an eerie feeling to Kashgar’s Old Town, an ancient honeycomb of alleyways lined by crumbling earth and brick structures. Women, wearing headscarves, walk past slogans painted on the walls exhorting people not to take part in “illegal religious activities”. Another slogan says the Islamic Liberation Party is a “violent terrorist organisation”.

“The security apparatus in Kashgar is intruding into all spheres of life for local Uighurs, and placing them under tremendous stress,” Rebiya Kadeer, a former political prisoner in Xinjiang and now a human rights leader based in Washington, said in a recent press release. “Uighurs in Kashgar feel as if they are living in an open-air jail, and fear that they or their family members may be detained at any moment.”

Ironically, before the September 11 attacks, local officials, eager to attract overseas investment, played down talk of a security problem. Nine days before the attacks in the United States, Wang Lequan welcomed visitors to the Urumqi trade fair saying that the situation in Xinjiang was “better than ever in history”.

Two weeks later, China began to stress the problem of terrorism in Xinjiang, making an effort to link Uighurs with global terrorist activities.

“Since 9/11 the Chinese government has attempted to create a false association between the Uighur struggle for national existence and global terrorist activities to justify the repressive treatment of the Uighurs,” said Nury Turkel former president of the Uyghur American Association, and a lawyer in Washington. “As a result, Uighurs face an uphill battle against China’s relentless propaganda machine.”

Yitzhak Shichor, professor of East Asian studies and political science at the University of Haifa in Israel, said the Chinese government inflates claims of terrorism in order to suppress anyone that might threaten its rule in the region.

“The Chinese are not so much concerned about the present, but the future, not actual acts, but potential acts,” Prof Shichor said.

Uighurs are perplexed by the claims of terrorism. “They just turn small incidents into big ones,” said a Kashgar taxi driver, when asked about such incidents.

Many experts on the Xinjiang region say the Chinese rhetoric has been effective, and criticise foreign media for doing a “cut and paste” of official statements when reporting on the issue.

In Aug 2002, the US state department designated ETIM a terrorist organisation with connections to al Qa’eda. Analysts say the decision was made hastily to win Chinese support for the global fight against terrorism, and was mainly based on unconfirmed information provided by China. One month later, the United Nations added ETIM to a similar list.

The general secretary of the Uyghur American Association, Alim Seytoff, said US officials now acknowledge off the record that the decision was a blunder.

Mehmet Tohti, vice president of the World Uyghur Congress, shot off a string of questions about ETIM: “Where is it located? Who is the head? Who are the members?

“So far the Chinese government has offered no evidence.”

Hasan Mahsum, the alleged former leader of ETIM, was reported killed in a raid by the Pakistani army in 2003, and Mr Seytoff said the organisation then became “dysfunctional, except for Chinese claims”.

Prof Shichor also questions Chinese claims. “I find it very hard to believe that with China’s controls and technology that there cold be organised terrorist groups in Xinjiang,” he said. “It doesn’t seem likely.”

Prof Shichor said that contrary to popular belief, the Chinese military presence in Xinjiang is “shallow” in terms of quantity and quality, proof that officials do not believe their own claims of a terrorist threat.

China reported a series of incidents last year in the run-up to the Olympics, but the claims were met with scepticism.

Regarding the murder of 16 police officers in Kashgar in August, photos provided by several foreign tourists, and witness accounts given to The New York Times offered a version of events different to that provided by the government.

State media reports alleged the attack was carried out with handmade weapons by a vegetable seller and a taxi driver.

But Sean Roberts, a professor of international relations at George Washington University, said it was doubtful a terrorist group was behind the incident and it is possible the attack was an “isolated incident of violence”. He added that if an organisation were involved, “we’d have to say the group is fairly unsophisticated and fairly unorganised”.

In another mysterious case last year, a Uighur woman is alleged to have smuggled bottles of gasoline on to an Air China plane – despite stepped-up security checks and special searches of Uighur passengers. “In such tight security, how could the woman have smuggled anything on to the plane?” said Mr Tohti of the World Uyghur Congress. “And if she did, why didn’t she use it?”

No further news was heard of the case afterwards.

Uighurs say the human rights situation has taken a turn for the worse since the Olympics spotlight was turned off China. They say the Chinese government is especially wary this year, which marks a number of sensitive anniversaries, including the occupation of Xinjiang by China’s People’s Liberation Army in Aug 1949.

Prof Roberts said the clampdown has made Islam “a political rallying point for Uighur dissatisfaction”, particularly in the south, where people feel the most threatened.

And According to Prof Shichor, this will give the government an excuse to further tighten its grip on Islam in Xinjiang. “The controls are becoming stronger and stronger, and not weaker,” he said.

“The prospects for democracy in China are becoming smaller and smaller.”

Revolt stirs among China’s nuclear ghosts

Revolt stirs among China’s nuclear ghosts
Up to 190,000 may have died as a result of China’s weapons tests: now ailing survivors want compensation
China Explodes 1st H Bomb 17th June 1967.
Michael Sheridan

The nuclear test grounds in the wastes of the Gobi desert have fallen silent but veterans of those lonely places are speaking out for the first time about the terrible price exacted by China’s zealous pursuit of the atomic bomb.

They talk of picking up radioactive debris with their bare hands, of sluicing down bombers that had flown through mushroom clouds, of soldiers dying before their time of strange and rare diseases, and children born with mysterious cancers.

These were the men and women of Unit 8023, a special detachment charged with conducting atomic tests at Lop Nur in Xinjiang province, a place of utter desolation and – until now – complete secrecy.

“I was a member of Unit 8023 for 23 years,” said one old soldier in an interview. “My job was to go into the blast zone to retrieve test objects and monitoring equipment after the explosion.

“When my daughter was born she was diagnosed with a huge tumour on her spinal cord. The doctors blame nuclear fallout. She’s had two major operations and has lived a life of indescribable hardship. And all we get from the government is 130 yuan [£13] a month.”

Hardship and risk counted for little when China was determined to join the nuclear club at any cost.

Soldiers galloped on horseback towards mushroom clouds, with only gas masks for protection.

Scientists jumped for joy, waving their little red books of Maoist thought, while atomic debris boiled in the sky.

Engineers even replicated a full-scale Beijing subway station beneath the sands of the Gobi to test who might survive a Sino-Soviet armageddon.

New research suggests the Chinese nuclear tests from 1964 to 1996 claimed more lives than those of any other nation. Professor Jun Takada, a Japanese physicist, has calculated that up to 1.48m people were exposed to fallout and 190,000 of them may have died from diseases linked to radiation.

“Nuclear sands” - a mixture of dust and fission products - were blown by prevailing winds from Lop Nur towards towns and villages along the ancient Silk Road from China to the West.

The victims included Chinese, Uighur Muslims and Tibetans, who lived in these remote regions. Takada found deformed children as far away as Kazakhstan. No independent scientific study has ever been published inside China.

It is the voices of the Chinese veterans, however, that will reso-nate loudest in a nation proud of its nuclear status but ill informed about the costs. One group has boldly published letters to the state council and the central military commission - the two highest government and military bodies - demanding compensation.

“Most of us are between 50 and 70 and in bad health,” they said. “We did the most hazardous job of all, retrieving debris from the missile tests.

“We were only 10 kilometres [six miles] from the blast. We entered the zone many times with no protective suits, only goggles and gas masks. Afterwards, we just washed ourselves down with plain water.”

A woman veteran of Unit 8023 described in an interview how her hair had fallen out. She had lost weight, suffered chronic insomnia and had episodes of confusion.

“Between 1993 and 1996 the government speeded up the test programme, so I assisted at 10 underground explosions,” she said. “We had to go into the test zone to check highly radioactive instruments. Now I’m too sick to work - will the government help me?”

The price was paid by more than one generation. “My father was in Unit 8023 from 1967 to 1979, when his job was to wash down aircraft that had flown through the mushroom clouds,” said a 37-year-old man.

“I’ve been disabled by chronic immune system diseases all my life and my brother’s daughter was born with a heart defect,” he said. “Our family has spent thousands of yuan on operations over the decades. Two and three generations of our family have such illnesses - was it the nuclear tests? Does our government plan any compensation?”

In fact, the government has already responded to pressure from veterans’ groups. Last year Li Xueju, the minister of civil affairs, let slip that the state had started to pay “subsidies” to nuclear test personnel but gave no details of the amounts.

Such is the legacy of the decision by Chairman Mao Tse-tung, in 1955, to build the bomb in order to make China a great power.

Mao was driven by fear of the US and rivalry with the Soviet Union. He coveted the might that would be bestowed by nuclear weapons on a poor agricultural nation. Celebrations greeted the first test explosion on October 16, 1964.

The scientists staged a total of 46 tests around the Lop Nur site, 1,500 miles west of Beijing. Of these tests, 23 were in the atmosphere, 22 underground and one failed. They included thermonuclear blasts, neutron bombs and an atomic bomb covertly tested for Pakistan on May 26, 1990.

One device, dropped from an aircraft on November 17, 1976, was 320 times more powerful than the bomb that destroyed Hiroshima.

The last explosion in the air was in 1980, but the last underground test was not until July 29, 1996. Later that year, China signed the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty and, once again, only the sigh of the winds could be heard in the desolation of the Gobi desert.

The financial cost remains secret, but the price of the first bomb was roughly equal to more than a third of the entire state budget for 1957 – spending that went on while at least 30m Chinese peasants died of famine and the nuclear scientists themselves lived on hardship rations.

Rare was the outsider who gained a glimpse of this huge project. One was Danny Stillman, director of technical intelligence at Los Alamos, New Mexico, home of America’s nuclear weapons. He made 10 visits to secret Chinese nuclear facilities during a period of detente and information exchange from 1990 to 2001.

“Some of the videos they showed me were of PLA [People’s Liberation Army] soldiers riding on horses - with gas masks over the noses and mouths of both the horses and the soldiers - as they were riding towards the mushroom cloud of an atmospheric surface detonation,” Stillman recalled.

“It was strange because the soldiers had swords raised above their heads as they headed for the radioactive fallout. I have always wondered how many of them survived.”

Stillman was also allowed to see the lengths to which the Chinese scientists had gone to experiment with annihilation in the desert.

Like the Americans, the Chinese placed caged live animals, tanks, planes, vehicles and buildings around test sites. Such were the remains gathered by the men and women of Unit 8302.

“The surprise to me was that they also had a full-scale Beijing subway station with all supporting utilities constructed at an undefined depth directly underneath,” said Stillman.

“There were 10,000 animals and a model of a Yangtze River bridge,” recalled Wu Qian, a scientist.

Li Yi, a woman doctor, added: “Animals placed two kilometres from the blast centre were burnt to cinders and those eight kilometres away died within a few days.”

China had borrowed Soviet blueprints and spied on the West, according to The Nuclear Express, a book by Stillman and Thomas Reed, the former US air force secretary.

It explains how China then exploited its human capital to win technological parity with the US for just 4% of the effort - 45 successful test explosions against more than 1,000 American tests.

“The Chinese nuclear weapon scientists I met . . . were exceptionally brilliant,” Stillman said.

Of China’s top 10 pioneers, two were educated at Edinburgh University - Cheng Kaijia, director of the weapons laboratory, and Peng Huan-wu, designer of the first thermonuclear bomb. Six went to college in the United States, one in France and one in Germany.

For all this array of genius, no Chinese scientist has dared to publish a study of the human toll.

That taboo has been broken by Takada, a physicist at the faculty of medicine at Sapporo University, who is an adviser on radiation hazards to the government of Japan.

He developed a computer simulation model, based on fieldwork at Soviet test sites in Kazakhstan, to calculate that 1.48m people were exposed to contamination during 32 years of Chinese tests.

Takada used internationally recognised radiation dosage measurements to estimate that 190,000 have died of cancer or leukaemia. He believes 35,000 foetuses were deformed or miscarried, with cases found as far away as Makanchi, near the Kazakh border with China.

To put his findings in perspective, Takada said China’s three biggest tests alone generated 4m times more radioactivity than the Chernobyl reactor accident of 1986. He has called the clouds of fallout “an air tsunami”.

Despite the pall of silence inside China, two remarkable proofs of the damage to health have come from official Communist party documents, dated 2007 and available on provincial websites.

One is a request to the health ministry from peasants’ and workers’ delegates in Xinjiang province for a special hospital to be built to cope with large numbers of patients who were “exposed to radiation or who wandered into the test zones by mistake”.

The other records a call by a party delegate named Xingfu for compensation and a study of “the severe situation of radiation sickness” in the county of Xiaobei, outside the oasis town of Dunhuang.

Both claims were rejected. Residents of Xiaobei report an alarming number of cancer deaths and children born with cleft palates, bone deformities and scoliosis, a curvature of the spine.

Specialists at hospitals in three cities along the Silk Road all reported a disproportionate number of cancer and leukaemia cases.

“I have read the Japanese professor’s work on the internet and I think it is credible,” said one. No cancer statistics for the region are made public.

Some memories, though, remain indelible. One man in Dunhuang recalled climbing up a mountain-side to watch a great pillar of dust swirl in from the desert.

“For days we were ordered to keep our windows closed and stay inside,” recounted another middle-aged man. “For months we couldn’t eat vegetables or fruits. Then after a while they didn’t bother with that any more.”

But they did go on testing. And the truth about the toll may never be known unless, one day, a future Chinese government allows pathologists to search for the answers in the cemeteries of the Silk Road.

The dead of Dunhuang lie in a waste ground on the fringe of the desert, at the foot of great dunes where tourists ride on camels. Tombs, cairns and unmarked heaps of earth dot the boundless sands.

By local tradition, the clothes of the deceased are thrown away at their funerals. Dresses, suits and children’s garments lie half-buried by dust around the graves.

“People don’t live long around here,” said a local man who led me to the graveyard. “Fifty, 60 - then they’re gone.”

Additional reporting: Shota Ushio in Tokyo and Imogen Morizet in Washington

Justice for the Uighurs


Justice for the Uighurs
Chinese Muslim detainees should be welcomed into the United States.

Washington Post

FOR THE PAST seven years, 17 men have been held at the U.S. Naval Base in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, detainees who the U.S. government acknowledges should never have been there. They are not enemies of the United States or its allies and have not engaged in violence against U.S. or other interests. Yet these men -- ethnic Chinese Muslims known as Uighurs -- continue to be prisoners of years-old mistakes, ancient hostilities and modern-day diplomatic failures.

The United States cannot return the men to China for fear that they will be mistreated or even tortured; the Chinese government considers them part of a terrorist group and has itself detained or abused Uighurs even when there was no evidence that they engaged in violence. The Bush administration tried for years to find the Uighurs a home in a third country, but to no avail; the Chinese government has threatened to retaliate politically against any nation that offers the Uighurs a haven.

Efforts to free the Uighurs through court proceedings have fared no better. Last fall, a D.C. federal judge ordered the United States to release the men into this country, but the order was overturned in February by an appeals court that reached the legally defensible conclusion that the judge overstepped his bounds because only the executive branch and Congress have the right to admit people into the country. This month, lawyers for the Uighurs appealed to the Supreme Court. Even if the court accepts the case, a decision would be unlikely to come until next year. In the meantime, 17 innocent men will continue to be confined on an island naval base ringed by barbed wire.

We have previously urged the administration to accept one or two of the detainees as a show of good faith and in an effort to spur ambivalent allies to take in the others. But the time has come for the United States to accept full responsibility for wrongly holding the

Uighurs and to act boldly to rectify this miscarriage of justice. President Obama should grant asylum to all of the Uighur detainees, subject to confirmation that they have not engaged in any acts of violence. The International Uighur Human Rights and Democracy Foundation, a well-regarded organization based in Washington, has promised to provide housing and other support for the men if they are welcomed into the country.

This may prove a delicate proposition for Mr. Obama. After all, releasing the men to foreign countries is one thing; inviting them to live next door to Americans is quite another. But the risks of allowing the Uighurs into the country are offset by evidence that they never held any animus toward the United States or its citizens and never engaged in acts of violence against the United States or its allies. So concluded the Bush administration, which determined that the men were not enemy combatants. Allowing them into the country would be a small but important step to make up for seven years of unjust and unjustifiable incarceration.

Friday, April 17, 2009

A Chinese Uighur, Making Pizza in Albania

A Chinese Uighur, Making Pizza in Albania

A former Guantanamo inmate has built a new life for himself, working in an Italian snack bar on Albanian soil, along with four of his fellow Uighur Muslims. He's become a spokesman of sorts, and he hopes to go into business for himself.

The most famous pizza chef in Tirana is just coming out of his Friday prayers. It is almost one p.m., and about 1,000 worshippers stream through the gates of the old mosque on Kavaya Street in the center of the Albanian capital. In the midst of the crowd, a thin man with a trimmed beard and almond-shaped eyes peers out from behind his glasses. His name is Abu Bakker Qassim, and he comes from Yining in China's northwestern Xinjiang region.

Abu Bakker, along with hundreds of other terrorism suspects from around the world, was incarcerated for four years at the US naval base in Guantanamo Bay. For the past three years, he's been living in Albania, the only nation that would accept after his release in 2006. Here this pious upholsterer has found a new task in life. Three times a week, the Uighur Muslim kneads pizza dough for Tirana's Islamic community at McGusto Halall, a snack bar on Hoxha Tahsim Street.

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It goes without saying that the salami and cold cuts on a family-size pizza -- which goes for 550 Albanian lek, about €4.30 ($5.70) -- are made with beef. But the key ingredient in the dough, Abu Bakker says proudly, is just the right pinch of yeast. The yeast is what turns flour, olive oil and salt into perfect pizza dough. And for Abu Bakker, who worked in food stall in China starting at age seven, learning the secrets of Italian cuisine was easy.

Abu Bakker tells the story of his life, which could easily have come from a film: He remembers the Chinese Communist government's harassment of devout Uighurs, an Islamic minority in western China; he remembers fleeing his home and spending several years in US custody; and he remembers his new life in, of all places, the "first atheist nation" on earth, Albania.

Why did a man like Abu Bakker cross over to Kyrgyzstan for money in 2000, when his wife was pregnant with twins? Why did he later find himself stranded, while traveling a circuitous route to Turkey, in Afghanistan's mountainous Tora Bora region, where the leaders of al-Qaida had their remote hideouts, and he had heard there was work for Uighurs? Why did he, together with other Uighurs, receive weapons training?

Abu Bakker smiles softly when he hears these questions. He isn't telling his story for the first time, and he can stomach skepticism. He knows his market value.

'I am Proud of You'

Abu Bakker is the oldest of the five Uighurs released to date and, he has a mission to fulfill. There are still 17 Uighurs imprisoned at Guantanamo, innocent, as he says, but without a place to go. They can't return to China's Xinjiang region, where they are branded as "separatists" and persecuted, and yet no country has volunteered to accept them. And so Abu Bakker, the pizza maker from Tirana, has taken it upon himself to be the voice of his powerless Uighur brothers.

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He sent an open letter to "Dear Mr. President" Barack Obama more than two weeks ago. In the letter, he, Abu Bakker from Xinjian, the "Land where the Sun Rises," boldly addressed the most powerful man on earth. He was not writing to settle a score with the country that had kept him prisoner for many years, as a self-described innocent man. Instead, Abu Bakker politely petitioned for the release of his countrymen and expressed admiration for Barack Obama, because, as he wrote, "you, like I, without considering the end of your long journey, have managed to become a hero. I am on your side. I am proud of you."

It sounds as if a simple upholsterer from Xinjian had sprouted enormous wings, a man who arrived in Guantanamo seven years ago, his feet shackled and his mouth taped shut, a pawn sacrifice on the chess board of the global fight against terrorism. And now Abu Bakker, supported by his eloquent American attorney, is no longer content to look on as he and his fellow Uighurs are pushed around.

Abu Bakker now speaks Albanian well enough to be able to read the Tirana newspapers. He has read that Prime Minister Sali Berisha justified Albania's acceptance of the Uighurs with the argument (after the fact) that his country was now repaying a debt to America -- for Washington's support of the ethnic Albanian province of Kosovo's secession from Serbia. And, "possibly," Abu Bakker adds, for Albania's speedy acceptance into NATO.

Could this mean that the Uighurs who have landed in Tirana are the price Berisha's government paid for acceptance into the world's most powerful military alliance? "There is no connection between the two," the Albanian prime minister says heatedly in his office, with the flags of all NATO member states flapping outside in the wind. "We acted out of purely humanitarian reasons."

The Albanian government still pays for Abu Bakker's apartment, as well as a telephone card, so that he can hear the voice of his wife in Yining and those of their twins, who are now nine years old and whom he has never seen. But the government assistance will be discontinued at the end of the year, and then Abu Bakker will be on his own.

Surviving in Albania is only a small challenge to a man who has been imprisoned by both Chinese Communists and American soldiers, harassed by Kyrgyz police and betrayed by Pakistani tribal leaders. He intends -- "inshallah," says Abu Bakker -- to open his own pizzeria in Tirana soon.

Translated from the German by Christopher Sultan

Thursday, April 16, 2009

Turkey Trot: Military Cooperation between Beijing and Ankara

Turkey Trot: Military Cooperation between Beijing and Ankara

Publication: China Brief Volume: 9 Issue: 8
April 16, 2009 03:55 PM Age: 3 hrs
Category: China Brief, Military/Security, Foreign Policy, Featured, China and the Asia-Pacific, Turkey
By: Yitzhak Shichor

Turkish General Hasan Aksay (L) and Chinese Deputy Chief of Staff General Ge Zhengfeng (R)

In the last week of March 2009, Ankara and Beijing may have taken another step toward upgrading their military cooperation. This has become evident during a visit from General Hasan Aksay, commander of the Turkish military academies, who spent three days in China, starting March 24. To be sure, this was not the first Turkish military visit. Since 1985, Turkey has sent 18 military delegations consisting of some 200 members while 14 Chinese military missions with about 330 representatives visited Turkey at the same time (Today's Zaman, March 25). These are official figures; the real figures are most likely higher, though confidential. These numbers, however, do not tell the whole story of Sino-Turkish military relations.

Ostensibly, one should not have expected any significant breakthrough in the military relations between China and Turkey since the visitor, commander of military academies, does not rank high enough to initiate such a change or even to deliver such a message. Similarly, General Aksay was hosted by lower ranking Chinese military figures, the Deputy Chief of Staff General Ge Zhengfeng and the President (Commander) of the National Defense University, General Wang Xibing. Still, the visit may be significant, less because of the persons involved and much more because of the circumstances of the developing Sino-Turkish defense relations. Unlike some assertions, these relations by no mean "remain limited to the realm of military personnel exchanges" (China Brief, February 21, 2007). Mostly concealed from the public and the media, Beijing-Ankara military collaboration has been substantially expanded over the last fifteen years.

The Legacy of the Korean War

This is a significant change considering the fact that the two countries clashed in the Korean War in the early 1950s. Joining the U.N.-led alliance initiated by the United States, by late November 1950, over 5,000 Turkish troops had already engaged the Chinese "volunteer" forces in violent encounters several times. These clashes inflicted heavy casualties—on both sides. In the battle of Kunu Ri, one of the bloodiest of the entire war, Turkish troops bayoneted 900 Chinese. These initial clashes were followed by repeated violent confrontations up to the armistice on July 27, 1953. Throughout the war, Turkish brigades were pulled out and sent home, only to be replaced by fresh ones. Altogether, over 25,000 Turkish troops fought along U.N. forces in Korea. They suffered 3,277 casualties: 721 dead, 2,147 wounded, 175 missing and 234 captured [1]. General Tahsin Yazıcı, commander of the First Turkish brigade in Korea, referred to the Chinese as "red dwarfs," cruel and barbaric (Hürriyet, December 9, 1951).

As anticipated, Turkey's participation in the Korean War expedited and consolidated its integration into the Western security system and on October 22, 1951, Turkey was admitted into NATO, becoming an official member on February 18, 1952, while the Korean War was still going on. This confrontation, and Turkey's admission to NATO, delayed Sino-Turkish relations by nearly twenty years, leaving sediments of mutual hostility for a long time, perhaps to this very day. "In contemporary Turkey, China is still portrayed much less favorably than other countries of East Asia. […] The Korean War was critical in shaping the long-term relations of China and Turkey" [2]. It had taken another twenty years, from the early 1970s (when diplomatic relations were at long last established) to the early 1990s, until Sino-Turkish relations started to improve.

The Dimensions of Military Relations

Sino-Turkish military explorations began in the first half of the 1990s after Ankara's negotiations with Washington for the joint production and technology transfer of the M-270 MLRS (Multiple Launch Rocket System) failed. Washington criticized Ankara for using U.S.-supplied weapons for human rights abuses, subsequently restricting arms and military technology transfers to Turkey, and cutting off grants and loans earlier offered to Turkey for arms acquisitions from the United States. Occasionally, arms embargos and sanctions tend to be counter-productive as they encourage and force the affected countries to develop their military industry independently as well as to look elsewhere for arms and military technology. Turkey was no exception and China was ready [3].

In 1997, Turkey for the first time signed an arms deal with China for the acquisition of 24 WS-1 302mm unguided rockets as well as 144 rockets for assembly in Turkey, to be supplied between 1998 and 2000. Based on Chinese technology, Turkey began to produce the TR-300 rockets (or T-302, upgraded from to the Chinese four-barrel WS-1B MLRS) under license, Turkish designation Kasırga (tornado). It is considered to be more advanced than the Chinese rocket. In late 1998, based on a similar contract signed with CPMIEC (China Precision Machinery Import-Export Corporation), the Turkish Army ordered some 15 of China's most advanced short-range SSMs (surface-to-surface missiles), the B-611 and began to license the production of over 200 missiles for over $300 million. The first missiles were probably deployed as early as 2001. Covered by heavy secrecy and disinformation, the project was called J-600T and the missile, Turkish designation Yıldırım (thunderbolt), was reported by Turkey to the UN Register of Conventional Arms in March 2007 and was first displayed during a Victory Day parade in Ankara on August 30, 2007. The B-611 had been designed as a replacement of the Chinese DF-11 (M-7 or CSS-7) SRBM. Allegedly developed jointly by Turkey's TÜBITAK (The Scientific and Technological Research Council of Turkey), MKEK (Mechanical and Chemical Industry Corporation) and CASIC (China Aerospace Science and Industry Corporation), it is a short-range, ground-based, solid-fuelled ballistic missile system. Its production is undertaken by the Turkish firm Roketsan (Roket Sanayii ve Ticaret, or Missiles [Rockets] Industries and Trade).

Nevertheless, the PRC is a marginal military supplier to Turkey. Excluding the B-611 yet unconfirmed $300 million deal, the value of the PRC arms transfers to Turkey between 1998 and 2007 is estimated at a meager $39 million, less than one percent of Turkey's total arms acquisitions in that period, or about seven percent including the deal (SIPRI Arms Transfers Database). In addition, China's HQ-9 air defense system is among the competitors in the Turkish bid for the supply of advanced surface-to-air missile systems, with potential capabilities against ballistic missiles [4]. It is possible that Roketsan may have received Chinese support in developing its air-to-surface missile Cirit (pronounced Jereed: javelin, spear), which derives from the NORINCO-made missile TY-90 (Tianyan: Heavenly Swallow) [5]. Yet, Beijing-Ankara military cooperation has not been limited to missiles. Another dimension of it emerged in 2005 when the two countries reportedly upgraded the FNSS ACV (Armored Combat Vehicle)-SW chassis by incorporating a BMP3 turret to it. The Turkish army operates a total of 2,500 upgraded Infantry Fighting Vehicles (or IFVs), which the FNSS firm intended to export (primarily to the United Arab Emirates) [6]. Needless to say, none of these transactions was ever reported to the UN Register of Conventional Arms, which does not indicate any military relations between Turkey and China.

Security and Intelligence Relations

In addition, Beijing has been urging Ankara to cooperate in the so-called fight against "terrorism," namely to restrict, monitor and prevent the activities of Uyghur national organizations and leaders in Turkey. Initially defying China's pressure, Turkey began to submit to Beijing's demands in the latter half of the 1990s. A first step in this direction was taken when the Turkish Army Deputy Chief of Staff signed a Sino-Turkish military training and cooperation protocol on May 28, 1999, during his visit to the PRC (Jane’s Defense Weekly, June 9, 1999, p. 13). Occasional Uyghur demonstrations and acts of violence against Chinese staying in Turkey had allegedly paved the ground for the first Sino-Turkish security co-operation agreement, signed on February 14, 2000. Among other things, it facilitated public security coordination between the two countries, stressing that hard measures would be taken against separatist activities targeting the territorial integrity of both Turkey (i.e. the Kurds and Cyprus) and the PRC (i.e. Xinjiang and Tibet).

The PRC has been watching its interests closely in Turkey through both military and "diplomatic" channels. The Third Bureau (military attachés) of the PLA General Staff Second Department (dealing with military intelligence) has been operating in Turkey as one of its most important, and presumably one of the most active, stations [7]. Beijing has been engaged not only in collecting political and military intelligence in Turkey, but also in infiltrating Uyghur organizations through moles and sleepers. One of the most serious problems Uyghur organizations face (and not just in Turkey) is how to expose collaborators with China. Uncertainty and suspicions about Uyghur activists—some high-ranking—often cause Eastern Turkestan organizations paralysis and passivity, exactly what Beijing wants.

Beijing's treatment of Uyghur (and others') activities abroad have been undertaken not only by its intelligence services but also by the Foreign Ministry in much the same way it monitors the overseas activities of Falun Gong—a spiritual-religious movement that Beijing has targeted since the late 1990s. This has been done through the 610 Office (an arm of the Ministry of State Security) that had operated under the Foreign Ministry's General Office. Established on June 10, 1999 (hence its name), 610 Offices are an extra-legal police force formed to suppress Falun Gong practitioners not only at home but also abroad. Reacting to human rights critics, on July 6, 2004, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs' 610 Office was renamed The Department of External Security Affairs (Shewai anquan shiwu si, or guanli si, literally the Department of Managing Foreign-Related Security). It "aimed at coping with increasing non-traditional security factors" (primarily terrorism) and the safety of Chinese abroad, as well as "dealing with Eastern Turkistan groups" [8].

The Chinese are also concerned about emerging manifestations (either real or virtual) of Pan-Turkism, a vision recently resuscitated not only in Beijing's perceptions but also by some Turkish military and political figures. Paradoxically, some of those who promote Pan-Turkism—including a number of Turkish generals—consider China a possible substitute to the United States and the European Union and urge increased collaboration with the East. They represent the so-called "Eurasianist" faction in the armed forces and proclaim ultra-rightists views as well as anti-Islamic attitudes. Erdoğan's religious government has forced some of them to retire [9]. While enjoying the support and backing of some politicians (among them ex-Maoists), it is nevertheless a marginal group. It seems highly unlikely that Turkey will turn to the PRC as a primary ally. Still, the Turkish "Eurasianists" presumably approve of, or are even instrumental in, forging defense collaboration with China.

Thus, General Hasan Aksay’s recent visit to China should be interpreted within the context of an already existing elaborate military and security cooperation. It is during this visit that China and Turkey agreed to intensify military cooperation that would enable joint military exercises and training and would underwrite defense industrial projects. Meeting his visitor, Deputy Chief of Staff of the PLA, Ge Zhenfeng hailed the smooth development of bilateral Sino-Turkish military relations and friendly exchanges and the "pragmatic cooperation" between the two militaries (PLA Daily, March 25).


1. Füsun Türkmen, "Turkey and the Korean War," Turkish Studies, 3:2 (Autumn 2002), pp. 161-180. See also: John M. Vander Lippe, "Forgotten Brigade of the Forgotten War: Turkey's Participation in the Korean War," Middle Eastern Studies, 36:1 (January 2000), pp. 92-101.
2. Çağdaş Üngör, "Perceptions of China in the Turkish Korean War Narratives," Turkish Studies, 7:5 (September 2006), pp. 406, 416.
3. The following is based on: Turkish Armed Forces (Land Forces Equipment),; Jane's Strategic Weapons Systems, See also: Utku Çakirözer, "'J' Booster for the Army," Milliyet (Istanbul), January 14, 2002, in FBIS-CHI, March 14, 2002; "Chinese Missiles for Turkey," Milliyet, June 2, 2005; "China to Help Turkey Produce Missiles," Central News Agency (Taiwan), December 21, 1996, in BBC, SWB, FE/2802, G/1 (December 23, 1996); "Secret Cooperation with China," Star (Istanbul), April 6, 2005.
4. Anatolia News Agency, August 10, 2008; Turkish Daily News, April 29, 2008; John C.K. Daly, "Turkey Ponders Russian Missile Offer," Eurasia Daily Monitor (The Jamestown Foundation), Vol. 5, Issue 140 (July 23, 2008); Andrew McGregor, Arming for Asymmetric Warfare: Turkey's Arms Industry in the 21st Century (The Jamestown Foundation, June 2008), p. 17.
5. Prasun K. Sengupta, "Eastern Showcase," Force (New Delhi), May 16, 2008; Today's Zaman, July 16, 2008.
6. "A New Birth of Chinese Version BMP3," Kanwa Defense Review (Hong Kong), May 12, 2005.
7. Nicholas Eftimiades, Chinese Intelligence Operations (Ilford: Frank Cass, 1994), p. 81. See also Ming Pao (Hong Kong), October 7, 1998, in Global Intelligence Update, October 8, 1998.
8. People's Daily, July 6, 2004; See also the testimony of Chen Yonglin, former diplomat in China's Consulate in Sydney, in: Falun Gong and China's Continuing War on Human Rights, Joint Hearing, U.S. Congress, July 21, 2005 (Washington, U.S. Government Printing Office, 2005), pp. 34-36.
9. Ihsan Dagi, "Are the Eurasianists Being Purged?", Zaman, July 21, 2008. See also: Hoonman Peimani, "Turkey Hints at Shifting Alliance," Asia Times, June 19, 2002; Dr. Sait Başer, "The Strategic Importance of the Ascending East," East and West Studies, August 6, 2007. Most of the "Eurasianists", including the generals, have been implicated in the Ergenekon group, accused for trying to subvert the Muslim AKP government. On the Ergenekon affair, see: Daniel Steinvorth, "Erkenekon Plot: Massive Trial in Turkey Provides Look into 'Deep State'." Spiegel Online, January 26, 2009

Monday, April 13, 2009

Detained Canadian complains of illness

Detained Canadian complains of illness


April 13, 2009

Detained Canadian Huseyin Celil has been granted another meeting with his family in his remote northwest China prison.

Mr. Celil - who was arrested in Uzbekistan and handed over to China in the summer of 2006 - complained of severe stomach pains and said his repeated requests to see a doctor have proved useless, according to a friend of the family.

"He is still in solitary confinement," said Canadian Uyghur human rights activist Mehmet Tohti.

China accuses Mr. Celil of terrorism. Despite the objection of senior Canadian government officials, who have said they've seen no evidence of his guilt, Mr. Celil was sentenced to life in prison. Beijing has never recognized his Canadian citizenship.

The Globe and Mail

Mr. Celil was allowed to visit with his mother, who still lives in China. The meeting took place last Friday morning. Mr. Celil's wife and children live in Burlington, Ont.

Mr. Celil is a Uyghur - a minority Muslim ethnic group residing mainly in northwest China. Beijing hasconvicted many Uyghurs of terrorism and "separatism" offences.

Last October, Mr. Celil's family members in China secretly recorded another prison visit - a copy of that recording was obtained by The Globe and Mail. This time, Mr. Celil and his mother were separated by a glass partition, and had to use a phone to talk to one another. The meeting lasted 25 minutes.

Mr. Tohti said Ottawa is deliberately muting its previously vocal criticism of Beijing as the government shifts focus to trade and economic issues.

"The government is a little bit silent about criticizing China's human rights record right now," he said.

Canada's relationship with China is currently under the spotlight, as International Trade Minister Stockwell Day continues a week-long visit to the country. However that trip is expected to be dominated by discussion of the global financial crisis and bilateral trade issues.

Wednesday, April 08, 2009

clamp down in Kashgar and Hotan on the eve of sensitive anniversary

Security forces clamp down in Kashgar and Hotan on the eve of sensitive anniversary

For immediate release
April 8, 2009
Contact: Uyghur American Association +1 (202) 349 1496

An intensive security clampdown is currently underway in the predominantly Uyghur cities of Kashgar and Hotan, in the southern part of East Turkestan (also known as Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region in northwest China), according to local Uyghurs, official Chinese media reports and Western news reports. At least 90 Uyghurs have been arrested in Kashgar, as the Chinese government mobilizes armed security forces throughout the area authorities conduct house-to-house searches. Video cameras stationed throughout Kashgar monitor Uyghurs’ every move. Uyghur residents in the city of Hotan are being forced to undergo security checks, and Uyghurs in both Kashgar and Hotan are being punished for engaging in “illegal religious activities”.

More than seventy Uyghurs, including two by the names Memetimin and Adurusul, are said to have been arrested in Kashgar since mid-March on charges of engaging in “illegal religious activities” and “inciting splittism”. In addition, 16 Uyghurs are said to have been arrested in Maralbexi County in Kashgar Prefecture after having practiced a form of martial arts in a local garden. The 16 were charged with engaging in illegal military training and proselytizing.

Government officials in East Turkestan are reportedly wary of the possibility of dissent among Uyghurs this year, as 2009 marks the 60th anniversary of the founding of the People’s Republic of China (PRC) and the entry of People’s Liberation Army troops into East Turkestan. Many Uyghurs consider the PRC’s military takeover of East Turkestan as an invasion of their country, similar to the way in which many of their Tibetan neighbors view the PRC’s takeover of Tibet.

According to official media reports, during a visit to Kashgar and Hotan from March 2 to March 6, Xinjiang Party Secretary Wang Lequan remarked that the two cities are “on the forefront of the fight against separatism”, and that severe measures must be taken against the “three evil forces” (terrorism, extremism and separatism) in the region. The current crackdown also comes in the wake of remarks in early March by the director of Xinjiang’s public security department, Liu Yaohua, that Xinjiang Public Security Bureaus should “minimize the factors of disharmony, and respond…all out to safeguard social stability and unity”.

The Uyghur American Association (UAA) is concerned about reports of arbitrary detention, abuse of power on the part of police and security forces, beatings and other forms of repression carried out during the clampdown in Kashgar and Hotan. UAA believes the intense security campaigns currently underway are targeted at the broader Uyghur population, with the goal of intimidating local Uyghurs and stamping out any form of dissent, however peaceful. The use of armed security forces, combined with a renewed focus on “correct ideological thinking” reminiscent of the Mao era and a hard-line policy on the expression of religious belief, coincides with a broader strategy to dilute Uyghurs’ ethnic and cultural identity in the more traditional southern areas of East Turkestan.

Security patrol unit keeps a close watch over Kashgar

A Xinjiang Peace Net report dated March 31 says the city of Kashgar has spent 10 million yuan on the creation of a new, 1,792-strong security patrol unit, with the goal of safeguarding social stability and countering any “sudden incidents” that may occur. The report states that around 2,101 video monitoring stations, connected by a sophisticated communications system, have been set up by government authorities throughout Kashgar Prefecture, including on roads and at Internet cafés, entertainment and business centers and other areas.

“The security apparatus in Kashgar is intruding into all spheres of life for local Uyghurs, and placing them under tremendous stress,” said Uyghur democracy leader Rebiya Kadeer. “Uyghurs in Kashgar feel as if they are living in an open-air jail, and fear that they or their family members may be detained at any moment.”

According to the Xinjiang Peace Net report, young, healthy individuals with “firm political thinking” have been selected as members of the security forces. Notably, the report states that the family members of those selected to be members of the security force in rural areas of Kashgar will be exempt from “voluntary labor service”- a reference to corvée labor that the government continues to forcibly implement among Uyghurs in the region. The report states that a total of 30 million yuan has been spent on a comprehensive security system in Kashgar, which, in addition to the creation of the new security forces and video monitoring stations, was invested in 11 new Santana police cars, 10 patrol cars, and anti-explosive equipment.

Combating ethnic disharmony

According to an article issued by the Shule County government on March 30 (Shule County is administered by Kashgar Prefecture), county authorities have begun launching a comprehensive program aimed at eliminating “splittism”, combating the “three evil forces”, promoting patriotism and socialism, and preventing students and teachers from engaging in religious activities. According to the article, more than 20 county-wide security sweeps were conducted in the county last year, which successfully stamped out the “three evil forces” and other types of criminal activity. As a result of these security sweeps, the report charges, 715 people were punished for criminal activity, including 101 people whom it claims were members of Hizb ut-Tahrir and other “reactionary groups”. In recent years, the Chinese government has widely accused Uyghur religious practitioners of being members of Hizb ut-Tahrir, despite a lack of evidence of even a basic familiarity with the group among the vast majority of Uyghur Muslims.

The Shule County report recommends that activities be carried out in the county to promote the slogans “The Communist Party is good, reform and opening up is good, the big family of the motherland is good, socialism is good, ethnic unity is good, and the People’s Liberation Army is good”.

Chinese government authorities, led by Wang Lequan, have consistently equated peaceful religious practices among Uyghurs with religious extremism and separatism, and have used the global war on terror as a pretext to crack down on even the most peaceful forms of dissent. Last month, two Uyghurs in Hotan were sentenced to lengthy prison terms for engaging in peaceful acts of political expression- one, Abdukadir Mahsum, was imprisoned for leading a protest against religious persecution, while another, Mamatali Ahat, was imprisoned for raising the flag of East Turkestan in Hotan’s Unity Square.

Crackdown on religion in Hotan

In the city of Hotan, a day’s bus ride to the southeast of Kashgar, local government authorities are reportedly closing unregistered Islamic schools and conducting house-to-house searches. Under the Hotan security crackdown, which has been implemented since late February, local residents report that armed police are conducting house-to-house searches at night, and are beating those who refuse to cooperate. At least seven religious schools have been closed down, and 39 individuals arrested.

Radio Free Asia reported that hundreds of Uyghurs who gathered to pray at a mosque outside of their village in Hotan Prefecture in late March were surrounded by local police and detained for hours. According to the news organization, local residents and officials report that conducting prayers outside of their home villages is now deemed a “social crime”, and Uyghurs who engage in “cross-village worship” are being detained and fined.

Meanwhile, Uyghurs in Hotan interviewed by the National newspaper say that there are hidden cameras in some local mosques, and plain-clothes police monitor who frequents mosques in the city.

While China’s constitution guarantees religious freedom to all citizens, including the right to “[…] believe in, or not believe in, any religion”, religion is often viewed as detrimental to society, particularly in the Uyghur case. Uyghurs’ religious identity is viewed as a threat that must be controlled or eradicated. Uyghur imams are required to attend “political education classes”, and their sermons are restricted in terms of in length and content. Minors are forbidden from entering a mosque or engaging in religious study; Uyghur government cadres are forbidden from practicing Islam; and Uyghur women and university students face restrictions in their religious worship. Only official versions of the Koran are permitted.

Destruction of Kashgar’s Old City

Heightened campaigns to promote security and battle separatism in East Turkestan have frequently corresponded with increased drives to dilute Uyghur culture and assimilate Uyghurs. Beginning in late February, a government campaign to resettle Uyghurs from the centuries-old Old City in the heart of Kashgar was launched, and authorities plan to demolish the Old City’s buildings, remnants of an age-old Uyghur architectural style. The 220,000 residents of the Old City are being relocated to a distant location on the northern suburbs of Kashgar, where it will undoubtedly be difficult to continue their traditional patterns of life and culture. The central and provincial governments are investing 300 million yuan in the project.

See also:

China Cracks Down in Muslim West

Chinese Regime Tightens Control of Uyghurs

Uyghurs Targeted Over Desert Prayers

Only older men allowed in mosques

Kashgar’s old city: the politics of demolition

Wang Lequan: Firmly attack the infiltration of the separatist activities of hostile forces (in Chinese)

With the “Two Improvements” as its goal, Kashgar City comprehensively promotes social stability and scientific development (in Chinese)

A firm line of defense to resist infiltration, ensure long-term peace and order, and secure a foundation. Five measures of Shule County to be carried out in order to ensure success in the ideological fight against anti-separatism (in Chinese)

World Uyghur Congress: Chinese armed forces monitor Kashgar, arrest 90 people (in Chinese)

Monday, April 06, 2009

17 Innocent Uighurs Detained at Guantánamo Ask Supreme Court for Release

Wonderland Wire

news that’s really fit to print
17 Innocent Uighurs Detained at Guantánamo Ask Supreme Court for Release

6 Apr 09

Today, lawyers for 17 Uighurs imprisoned at Guantánamo Bay asked the Supreme Court to recognize that the right to habeas corpus requires a remedy when a court finds that an individual is wrongly detained. The petition for the writ of certiorari, filed at the Supreme Court, asks for the Uighurs release from the detention center, where they have been detained since 2002. If the Court agrees to hear Kiyemba v. Obama, this would be the first time that it hears a Guantánamo case since deciding the landmark Boumediene v. Bush in June 2008.

“We now have asked the Supreme Court to hear the Uighur cases, and rule that the writ of habeas corpus guarantees to the innocent not just a judge’s learned essay but something meaningful – their release,” said Sabin Willett, of Bingham McCutchen, lead attorney for the Uighur detainees.

In October 2008, D.C. District Court Judge Ricardo Urbina ordered the U.S. government to release 17 wrongly-imprisoned Guantánamo detainees into the United States. The men, Uighurs from China, had been imprisoned without charge for over seven years. The U.S. government has acknowledged it neither had the authority to detain them nor could it release them to China because of a risk of torture. However, on February 18, 2009, the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals reversed the decision and held that the indefinite detention of the men could continue. The men have now asked for the Supreme Court to review the case and find, as the District Court did, that their “release into the continental United States is the only possible effective remedy.”

“This is now President Obama’s Guantánamo. If he is truly committed to closing the detention center, these men should be on a plane to restart their lives in the United States,” said Emi MacLean, staff attorney at the Center for Constitutional Rights (CCR). “The U.S. government has acknowledged that these 17 men are wrongly imprisoned and have nowhere safe to go Seven years is too long for such a grand mistake to go without a remedy.”

The petition reads: “This Court has already held that imprisonment the Executive cannot show to be authorized by law is a particular wrong that does have a remedy, and that remedy is release.”

For a copy of the petition or to learn more about Kiyemba v. Obama, click here.

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” there. 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. In addition, CCR has been working to resettle the approximately 60 men who remain at Guantánamo because they cannot return to their country of origin for fear of persecution and torture.

The Center for Constitutional Rights is dedicated to advancing and protecting the rights guaranteed by the United States Constitution and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Founded in 1966 by attorneys who represented civil rights movements in the South, CCR is a non-profit legal and educational organization committed to the creative use of law as a positive force for social change.