Saturday, May 30, 2009

Obama asks Australia to take Guantanamo detainees

Obama asks Australia to take Guantanamo detainees
Fri May 29, 2009 9:44pm EDT

SYDNEY (Reuters) - The United States has made a new request for Australia to accept a group of detainees from Guantanamo Bay for resettlement, a government spokeswoman said on Saturday.

The request is the first by President Barack Obama's administration, which plans to close down the detention camp in Cuba within the next year.

Media reports have said the request involves a group of Uighurs from China's largely Muslim western province of Xinjiang. Beijing has reportedly been pressing Washington to return them to China, but U.S. officials have expressed concerns about their likely treatment there.

Earlier requests for resettlement in Australia late last year by former president George W. Bush's administration were turned down by Canberra in January on "national security and immigration" grounds.

A spokeswoman for Australian Foreign Minister Stephen Smith confirmed the new request had been received.

"The Australian government will consider this request on a case by case basis and in accordance with the government's strict immigration and national security requirements," the spokeswoman said.

Those in the group in question have been cleared by U.S. authorities of involvement in terrorism, she said.

(Editing by Jerry Norton)

© Thomson Reuters 2009 All rights reserved

Thursday, May 28, 2009

Invite the Guantanamo Uygurs Into the U.S.

Guest Column: Invite the Guantanamo Uygurs Into the U.S.
In Washington, there is much huffing and puffing over whether the presence of Guantanamo detainees on U.S. soil -- whether in prison or free to roam -- represents a national security threat. The best illumination is usually found on the margins, which in this case is represented by the 17 Uyghurs -- long ago absolved of any link to terrorism -- who remain imprisoned at Guantanamo. When I lived in Central Asia, the best expert on anything having to do with the Uyghurs was Sean Roberts, a fellow Almaty resident and Ph.D student who was immersed in these inhabitants of neighboring Xinjiang province. I asked Sean to write a guest column with his own opinion on the Guantanamo Uyghurs. His reply follows.

By Sean Roberts

In the last two weeks, the issue of the 17 Uyghur men who have been in U.S. custody in Guantanamo Bay for the last seven years has come to the forefront of American politics. As somebody who has been studying the Uyghur people for almost 20 years, I am happy to see U.S. congressmen finally discussing Uyghurs and the complexity of their political predicaments. But I have also found the present debate disheartening in many ways. I support releasing all of the Guantanamo Uyghurs into the U.S. But I also believe that there needs to be a wholesale re-evaluation of the goals and tactics of the war on terror that brought them to Guantanamo in the first place.

According to Newsweek, the sudden interest in the Guantanamo Uyghurs began in April, when President Obama considered quietly releasing up to seven of them into the United States, presumably to be settled in northern Virginia. Several congressmen, led by Virginia’s Frank Wolf, sought to block the release. With the issue still unresolved, congressmen from both major parties have begun debating whether Uyghurs are in fact a threat to the United States, and whether these particular men are dangerous terrorists.

As one might expect, the loudest voices in this debate belong to those who oppose the settlement of the Uyghurs in the United States. Newt Gingrich, perpetually in search of a soapbox, suggested in a recent newspaper column that they could suddenly turn against us.

Particularly discouraging is how little U.S. politicians actually know about the Uyghurs despite it being seven years since we essentially identified them as enemies in the war on terror. Before I make the case why they should be released into the U.S., here is some background on how these Uyghurs came to be detained by the U.S. and what has happened to them since.

In June 2002, the U.S. military transported 22 Uyghurs from detention in Pakistan to Guantanamo. These men, who appear to be Uyghur nationalists opposed to Chinese rule in their homeland (referred to as Eastern Turkestan by most Uyghurs and Xinjiang by the Chinese state), had fled China, primarily to Central Asia, eventually seeking refuge in Afghanistan on their way through Iran to Turkey.

In Afghanistan, they presumably interacted with other Uyghur nationalists, and some allegedly underwent minimal military training by a Uyghur group referred to as the Eastern Turkestan Islamic Movement (ETIM).

During the initial U.S. bombing campaign in Afghanistan, these Uyghurs apparently fled to Pakistan and sought refuge with villagers who eventually gave them over to the U.S. military as alleged terrorists in exchange for a bounty (reportedly $5,000 each). According to declassified U.S. government documents (see the PDFs at the end of this page), the original accusations were based on their alleged relationship with ETIM.

All the men denied knowledge of the little-known ETIM, whose 2002 designation by the U.S. as a terrorist group with links to Al-Qaeda was regarded by skeptics as a politically motivated effort to win China’s support for larger U.S. goals in the war on terror.

Since 2002, a series of reviews of the Uygurs’ cases has led to the clearing of all of any charges. But the U.S. government has also recognized that if they are extradited to China, they would inevitably be held or executed by Chinese authorities without a fair trial. Other countries have been reluctant to offer any of them refuge in fear that problems would result in their relations with China.

In 2006, Albania did agree to take five of the detainees, who had been determined to have the most tenuous connections with ETIM.

That left 17 in Guantanamo. In October 2008, a federal judge in the District of Columbia ordered that all of these men -- all 17 -- be freed into the United States immediately on the grounds that there was no evidence to justify their continued detention. Within days, however, the Justice Department was granted a stay on this ruling, arguing that the men posed too much of a danger to the United States to allow them refuge in America.

It is apparently on the grounds of this October 2008 court decision that the Obama administration is now considering their release.

So what is ETIM? Is it a terrorist organization?

The most disturbing aspect of the seven-year odyssey experienced by the Guantanamo Uyghurs is that little if any evidence has emerged showing ties between ETIM and Al-Qaeda, or even that it is a terrorist organization.

During my many years working in the Uyghur community of Central Asia, I never heard of ETIM. And most Uyghurs I know never encountered it or heard of it prior to 2001. If it was an active group, it was obviously marginal in the constellation of Uyghur diaspora political organizations.

Although the organization itself does appear to at least have existed (under the name of the Eastern Turkestan Islamic Party) when it was classified as a terrorist group, its alleged leader at that time, the late Hasan Mahsum, told one journalist that it was not anti-American and never received financial assistance from the Taliban or Al-Qaeda.

Generally, Mahsum’s assertions make sense. Uyghur organizations have never been anti-American in character, and have little reason to be, given that their political goals are exclusively related to their relationship with the Chinese state. Furthermore, as early as 1999 Indian sources reported on Chinese agreements with the Taliban that ensured that the Taliban and its allies in Afghanistan would not support Uyghur separatists.

Since Mahsum’s assassination by the Pakistani army in October 2003, nothing has been heard from ETIM or specifically about its activities. Furthermore, reliable contacts of mine in Pakistan’s Northwest Frontier who follow these issues have told me that they have not heard of any active Uyghur groups in the country’s tribal belt.

Even more interesting, there is no conclusive evidence that ETIM has ever perpetrated a terrorist attack. While the Chinese government has claimed that various acts of violence in Xinjiang and Central Asia over the last decade were the work of ETIM, this has never been proven; and the acts of violence to which they are referring also may not even have been terrorism. Moreover, no Uyghur group has ever been tied to well-known methods of terrorism such as car-bombings or suicide bombings, acts that could confirm links to sophisticated transnational organizations such as Al-Qaeda. Instead, they have been accused of organizing disturbances and assassinations, which could be alternatively explained by a variety of other motives from popular political dissatisfaction to personal vendetta and crime.

The incidents of violence in the run-up to last summer’s Olympic games are a prime example of the lack of clarity surrounding alleged ETIM terrorist attacks. The most publicized of the supposed terrorist attacks in China last summer allegedly involved two Uyghur men driving a truck into a group of Chinese soldiers in the Xinjiang city of Kashgar, and then attacking them with knives and throwing homemade grenades. While a video on YouTube allegedly made by a group called the Turkestan Islamic Party or TIP (which “terrorist experts” tell us, with no supporting evidence, is another name for ETIM) claimed responsibility for this attack, the lack of sophistication demonstrated by its perpetrators invites skepticism. Furthermore, nobody in the international Uyghur community has indicated knowledge of who produced this video or others bearing the TIP brand. In all likelihood, these videos, which only recently began appearing, are disinformation prepared by either Uyghur nationalists or the Chinese state for the purpose of exaggerating the Uyghurs’ capacity to undertake terrorist attacks in the name of their political goals.

When one looks at all of this evidence (or lack there of), it is difficult to understand how the United States decided to place ETIM on a list of dangerous terrorist groups to begin with. Was this, in fact, a political act of appeasement to the Chinese government? Are there other groups on this list from elsewhere in the world that were likewise included among our enemies in the war on terror under dubious circumstances?

Undoubtedly, it is time to release the Guantanamo Uyghurs. In doing so, however, it may also be time to review our intelligence on ETIM and other alleged terrorist groups we are targeting in the war on terror, even indirectly through such methods as financial sanctions.

In all likelihood such a review will find that much of our intelligence on alleged terrorist groups like ETIM comes from foreign intelligence organizations in countries with a conflict of interest. It has not been a secret that we have increasingly relied on collaboration with intelligence services of tenuous allies in the war on terror, such as China, Russia, the Central Asian states, and Pakistan. Can such intelligence be trusted to help the United States decide who is our enemy?

In the case of ETIM, Chinese intelligence has good reason to suggest that there is a Uyghur terrorist threat. Beijing does not tolerate Uyghur political dissent, and international recognition of a Uyghur terrorist threat gives the government a freer hand in cracking down on internal political dissent in Xinjiang.

The Central Asian states and Pakistan likewise have reason to exaggerate the Uyghur terrorist threat in order to win favor with China. Equally, for the Central Asian states, a local threat of Uyghur terrorism provides a way to engage the U.S. in the war on terror without implicating their own people. And for Pakistan, it is yet another means of deflecting attention away from that country’s own indigenous terrorism problem.

If the debate over the Guantanamo Uyghurs facilitates a closer look at how groups like ETIM are being classified as terrorist organizations, it may play a critical role in helping the Obama administration to re-define the war on terror in a way that more clearly defines our enemies and that is ultimately more rational and winnable.

In the meantime, the 17 Uyghurs who remain in Guantanamo should be released into the U.S. now as a matter of preserving America’s image as a nation that upholds the rule of law and human rights.

I would gladly attend their welcoming party in Fairfax, Va.

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Uyghurs sold out in the US

Uyghurs sold out in the US
By Peter Lee

Republican leaders in the United States appear eager to hand President Barack Obama a political defeat and diminish his prestige and domestic and international clout - at the cost of the continued detention of 17 Uyghur prisoners at Guantanamo in Cuba.

By accident or design, the US Republicans were able to forestall the imminent release of the Uyghurs from Guantanamo to the US and Europe - detainees that the US had long ago determined posed no threat to the US and has been attempting to release for years.

The Uyghur cause had been a favorite of anti-communist Republicans. Uyghurs are an ethnic group from Central Asia and

Xinjiang province in western China. The ones in Guantanamo were captured in Afghanistan in late 2001.

The Uyghur's high-profile champion in Congress, California Republican Dana Rohrabacher, wrote Secretary of Defense Robert Gates in June of 2008 requesting that the 17 Uyghur detainees be released from Guantanamo into parole into the US.

Rohrabacher also called on the US government to provide an apology and perhaps compensation for any abuse the detainees had endured.

The Uyghurs - and the Republicans' principled position on the issue - fell victim to the conviction of top Republicans that it was of vital importance that the Obama administration suffer a conspicuous setback on an issue that the GOP still sees as political gold: terrorism.

In a recent newspaper column, Newt Gingrich, a key Republican strategist, burned the Republicans' bridges to the Uyghur cause with an inflammatory and misleading attack on the 17 Uyghur detainees at Guantanamo.

Gingrich insisted that the Uyghurs were too dangerous to be released into the Uyghur community in Virginia and accused them of being "trained mass killers instructed by the same terrorists responsible for killing 3,000 Americans on September 11, 2001", who "were trained, most likely in the weapons, explosives and ideology of mass killing, by Abdul Haq, a member of al-Qaeda's shura, or top advisory council."

Gingrich claimed the Uyghurs also committed perhaps the ultimate sacrilege against American values:

At Guantanamo Bay, the Uyghurs are known for picking up television sets on which women with bared arms appear and hurling them across the room.

Contrary to Gingrich's accusations, the Uyghurs indignantly riposted that they are not promiscuously flinging television sets around the camp.

In fact, only one TV was kicked, not tossed, several years ago and the culprit was considered to be so harmless to the US that he has already been released to Albania.

The New York Times, in an excellent report on the plight of the detainees by Tom Golden, had the TV story in June 2008:

They described their imprisonment as bewildering and traumatic, punctuated by moments of the absurd. After they were cleared for release, they were able to watch cartoons and Harry Potter movies, until Mr Mamet smashed the television because of what he said was the guards' refusal to take him to a doctor. The set was replaced with one made in China, the men said dismissively; it broke after a week.

Even if the canard of Islamicist rage against infidel appliances is debunked, the Uyghurs will find it difficult to deal with the political realities driving the abrupt sea change in Republican attitudes.

Republican Lindsey Graham explained how noble causes can be discarded in a heartbeat when the greater good of political advantage dictates:

Asked whether any lawmakers were arguing on behalf of releasing the Uyghurs in the US, he said: "The Uyghur caucus is pretty small."

The caucus of Republican lawmakers anxious to achieve political traction against Obama at any cost is, on the other hand, rather large.

The Republican strategists and their allies in Congress and the media aggressively counter-programmed against Obama's rollout of his new security strategy scheduled for the week of May 18.

In addition to igniting the Uyghur firestorm, the GOP relentlessly pounded speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi's veracity on the issue of confidential briefings she received on "enhanced interrogation techniques".

As a finishing touch, the Republicans sent out ex-vice president Dick Cheney to steal Obama's thunder with an uncompromising defense of the George W Bush administration's torture and Guantanamo policies before the American Enterprise Institute on the same day that Obama delivered his address on torture and Guantanamo at the National Archives (home of the US constitution and Bill of Rights).

There are strong indications that the Obama administration expected to bookend the president's speech with a dramatic demonstration of the moral and practical efficacy of the rule of law and multi-lateralism in America's new post-Guantanamo and post-Bush national security policy: the announcement that the president's team had taken the first concrete steps to closing Guantanamo by arranging the simultaneous release of the 17 Uyghurs to the US and several European countries.

A knowledgeable observer close to the Uyghurs stated, "There was a high level of expectation that we would have seen by now [May 22, 2009] a US release and the simultaneous release of Uyghurs to other willing countries."

When the Uyghur release plan blew up, Obama found himself deprived of the key advantage of his office - the ability to deliver substantive, spectacular results in addition to speeches.

Instead of triumphantly turning the page on the most dismal achievements of the Bush administration - torture and indefinite detention - and pointing the way to dispersing the 241 detainees still at Guantanamo and closing the despised detention facility, Obama discovered, to his chagrin, that the Republicans had fought him to a draw.

The Obama administration had apparently made the error of relying on the traditional bipartisan sympathy for the Uyghurs that extended from human-rights Democratic liberals to red-meat communist rollback conservatives, and neglected the necessary political spadework prior to the announcement.

In the face of an organized attack by the Republicans and spooked by the eagerness of the political press to report and incite a compelling political conflict, the Democratic leadership of Congress retreated in disarray, and stripped funds to close Guantanamo from the Defense Appropriation Bill.

As the Democrats regrouped, they called on the Obama administration for a do-over, this time presumably including detailed discussion and planning for the initiative, as well as preparations to handle aggressive, across-the-board pushback from the emboldened Republicans and their allies.

Gingrich may simply be attempting to gain traction for the Republicans by attacking the Democrats' perceived weakness in the matter of national security. It may also be that Gingrich has a more concrete goal: trying to sabotage an incipient grand bargain by the Obama administration to distribute the detainees throughout Europe.

That is a deal that relied on a crucial confidence-building measure: America's willingness to take its share of Uyghurs - and diplomatic heat from the Chinese - and provide diplomatic cover to the Germans and whatever other country might also step up to accept Uyghur detainees.

The idea of simultaneous release of Uyghurs to US and European custody had already been floated in the international press as early as June of last year, during the last months of the Bush administration.

A report in Der Spiegel on May 12 of this year updated the current status of the initiative in the Obama administration, and perhaps attracted Gingrich's baleful attention. It stated that US Attorney General Eric Holder had asked Germany to take nine Uyghurs, who would presumably find a happy home among the 500 expatriate Uyghurs living in Munich.

The article explicitly addressed the issue of linkage between US and European releases.

Washington now seems to realize they too might have to take a couple of Uyghurs in before European allies like Germany do the same - if for no other reason than to present a common front to the Chinese ... You cannot expect the Europeans to do what you are not prepared to do yourselves, said another high ranking American official, who believes that Germany could eventually be asked to consider further prisoners of different nationalities.

A contemporaneous statement by Uyghur emigre leader Rebiya Kadeer also pointed to a multinational package deal: "I hope that some of them will be released to the United States," says Kadeer, who now lives in Northern Virginia.

With the current collapse of political will for America to take its fair share of Uyghurs, European support can no longer be assured.

Tom Malinowski, Washington advocacy director at Human Rights Watch, said the administration understood that the US needed to take some of the detainees in order to encourage Europe to help, but that the congressional rhetoric would complicate those efforts.

"You can't argue these people are too dangerous to be released in the United States and then ask Germany to take them, that doesn't work," said Malinowski.

The German wavering occasioned by the failure of the US to commit to taking some Uyghur detainees can be seen from the position taken by long-time Bush adversary Gerhard Schroeder, who would certainly be happy to endorse the multi-lateralist foreign policy initiatives of Obama.

From a May 18, 2009, article in Deutsche Welle entitled "Steinmeier against accepting Uyghur from Guantanamo",

[Foreign Minister] Steinmeier has received support for his statement from former German chancellor Gerhard Schroeder, who told Der Spiegel that accepting Uyghurs would certainly put a strain on German-Chinese relations.

Schroeder said that while he is in favor of supporting US President Barack Obama in his efforts to close Guantanamo, only the US is in a position to take in the Uyghurs without suffering any political consequences from China.

Whether or not Gingrich consciously and cynically stampeded the US Congress on the matter of Uyghur detainees in the US to scupper the joint European/American release and deny Obama a political triumph, his assertion of the danger the Uyghurs pose is a misrepresentation of the conclusions reached both by the Bush and Obama administrations.

The Uyghurs' descriptions of their brief and haphazard training was apparently enough to assure the US government of their harmlessness.

Their lack of hostility toward the US was acknowledged early on, and most recently the Uyghurs have been serving their time in the low-security sector of Guantanamo known as Camp Iguana - whose privileges apparently include television.

The public record illustrates the casual, feckless nature of the Guantanamo Uyghurs' encounter with the extremist training/fighting infrastructure along the Afghan-Pakistan border.

Indeed, the picture of the detainees is of wannabe pro-American Uyghur freedom fighters, not death-to-America Islamicist jihadniks.

One of the detainees, seemingly eager to highlight his pro-liberty/pro-free market sympathies to the Bush administration, described what drove him to flee China for the destitute, terrorist-infested reaches of the Pashtun homeland: high taxes.

The reason we left the country was twofold: first, to do business, because it was getting more difficult to do business with rising taxes in China. Secondly, political pressure on Uyghurs had increased. So I left for abroad in 2000 in the hope of doing some business to better the situation of me and my family in a more free environment.

Actually, China has instituted preferential tax policies to aid in the development of Xinjiang.

Be that as it may, it seems clear that many of the Uyghurs were engaged in anti-Chinese activities as they rusticated along the Pakistan border: although some of the captives were innocents snared in the web of bounty hunters, many of them did confess to receiving training on firing a single shared AK-47 rifle at an ETIM-affiliated camp at Tora Bora, according to a study of the publicly available court documents by Long War Journal, and statements some of them made to the media.

Yes, he travelled to Afghanistan. Yes, he learned to fire a semi-automatic weapon there. "But I only ever used the weapon once, I shot four or five bullets. And never at people. And never in combat situations."

That's what Hassan Anvar told his captors at Guantanamo about his time at a training camp in the mountainous Tora Bora region in Afghanistan. He also told them that he doesn't hold a grudge against the United States of America or its allies. "I went to the camp to train to fight against the Chinese," he said.

Despite the desultory nature of their training, once the Uyghurs were linked to the alleged ETIM camp - and the fact was reported in the international media - the Chinese government would be keen to put them on trial.

ETIM - the East Turkestan Independence Movement - is a dirty word in Central Asia, to China, and to Uyghur activists themselves. Neither the US nor the countries bordering Xinjiang have any interest in antagonizing the People's Republic of China by providing any professions of support, let alone a haven, for an avowedly militant liberation movement.

After 9/11, the US obliged China by labeling ETIM a terrorist organization and, in effect, giving China quite a free hand in dealing with Uyghur unrest in Xinjiang.

The Uyghur emigre community has responded by eschewing the destabilizing advocacy of separatism.

It has questioned even the existence of something called ETIM as anything other than a Chinese provocation and excuse for repression, and constituted itself as the "World Uyghur Congress" promoting human rights and democratic Uyghur self-determination in Xinjiang.

This studiously non-violent approach, overtly modeled on the political strategy of the Tibetan exiles, advanced emigre Rebiya Kadeer as the Uyghurs' answer to the Dalai Lama.

At the very least, these efforts achieved a positive profile for the Uyghur cause: a Nobel Peace Prize nomination and a private meeting with former president Bush and his wife for Kadeer, and a Congressional resolution sponsored by anti-communist firebrand Ilena Ros-Lehtinen and co-sponsored by 32 Congresspersons across the ideological spectrum calling on China to release her children from custody.

However, ETIM still lives on in Chinese propaganda, Central Intelligence Agency dossiers, and, one would imagine, deep in the hearts of some aggrieved Uyghurs.

The Uyghur detainees' advocates exploited the fact that the US government failed in any case to demonstrate unambiguous links between ETIM and al-Qaeda or the Taliban and made the argument that these young men should be released since they had never displayed any intention of committing terrorist attacks against the US - the implication being that if they had sought military training, it was solely for the purpose of the independence struggle against the Chinese in Xinjiang.

Indeed, the government had classified the Guantanamo Uyghurs as "non-enemy combatants" as opposed to "enemy combatants". According to court documents, the US had no interest in keeping them at Guantanamo and had been trying to offload 10 of the Uyghurs since 2003, and another five since 2005.

This perceived US tolerance of militantly anti-Chinese Uyghurs and their sympathizers among the emigre community disturbs the Chinese government, which seeks to deter potential domestic copycats by demonstrating its determination to pursue armed separatists outside China's borders, deny them military or political havens, and bring them back to China for trial and punishment.

For China, the Uyghur issue is inextricably linked to the chaotic and dangerous situation in Central Asia.

Since the days of the anti-Soviet jihad, several hundred Uyghur militants have trained and fought in Afghanistan and western Pakistan, and some brought their expertise and anger back to the struggle in Xinjiang. With the resurgence of the Taliban's fortunes, China is concerned that anti-Chinese militants will find a safe haven, material support, and allies in Taliban-dominated areas.

As early as 1992, 22 Uyghur separatists were killed in an armed clash near Kashgar in Xinjiang and the Chinese government shut down its road links with Pakistan, including the legendary Karakorum Highway, for several months to stop the destabilizing flow of fighters, drugs, and AIDS out of the Pashtun areas.

Before 9/11, a special training camp for Uyghurs was reportedly operated near Tora Bora under al-Qaeda and Taliban auspices near the Pakistan border, and a safe house maintained in the Afghan provincial town of Jalalabad.

According to one report at, the Chinese claim 1,000 Uyghur militants trained in al-Qaeda camps.

China reports that the ETIM has ties to Central Asia Uyghur Hezbollah in Kazakstan and that 1,000 Uyghurs were trained by al-Qaeda. They maintain that 600 of them escaped to Pakistan, 300 were caught by US forces on the battlefield in Afghanistan and 110 returned to China and were caught. At the beginning of the conflict in Afghanistan, US forces did, in fact, report that 15 Uyghurs were imprisoned at Guantanamo Bay.

Chinese government has been extremely aggressive in its efforts to ensure that any Uyghur militants seeking independence for Xinjiang do not find welcome anywhere, especially in Pakistan.

China may be hyping the ETIM threat, but clearly regards it as a significant security issue, as B Raman reported:

Talking to a group of senior Pakistani newspaper editors after a visit to China in 2003, [Pakistan's President] Musharraf was reported to have stated that he was shocked by the strong language used by the Chinese leaders while talking of the activities of the Uyghur jihadi terrorists from Pakistani territory.

However, except for the killing of alleged ETIM head Hahsan Mahsum in the Federally Administered Tribal Areas in 2003 by Pakistani forces, for several years Chinese efforts to get Pakistan to hand over East Turkestan fighters were unsuccessful. China noticed.

In October 2008, on the occasion of Pakistani President Asif Ali Zardari's first official visit to China, the Chinese media pointedly published a detailed bill of particulars of the eight most-wanted ETIM terrorists, presumably so that the Pakistani government could not excuse continued inaction with any pretended confusion as to who Beijing was after and why.

In April 2009, Pakistan finally agreed to extradite nine Uyghurs to China.

As for the US, after 9/11, Chinese implacability turned the issue of repatriating the 22 Uyghurs, who were captured and delivered to the US for incarceration at Guantanamo, into a legal and geopolitical headache.

In 2002, the US government made the dubious decision to share the detainees' dossiers with the Chinese, and even allow Chinese interrogators to come to Guantanamo to question the Uyghurs.

The US obligingly softened up the Uyghurs with the "frequent flier program" - a sleep deprivation technique (ironically, it came to US notice when the Chinese practiced it on US prisoners of war during the Korean War) involving waking them up every 15 minutes - in the run-up to the interrogation.

The Uyghurs reported that the Chinese interrogators threatened them and insisted they return to China; not surprisingly they refused. Beijing, its determination perhaps buttressed by the intelligence shared by the United States and the takeaway from its interrogations, demanded that the Uyghurs be repatriated.

The Bush administration, which quietly repatriated several hundred Guantanamo detainees during its two terms, could not bring itself to agree.

Instead, it dug a nice, deep hole for itself.

First it classified the Uyghurs as anti-Chinese combatants. Then it decided it could not transfer them to China for fear of torture and execution.

The US government, which has blithely returned dozens of rendered Egyptians to the tender mercies of the Egyptian police, took repatriation to China off the table, perhaps because of the Bush administration's stated sympathy for the Uyghur cause and Rabiya Kadeer.

According to the New York Times last year:

Some officials at the Pentagon advocated sending the Uyghurs back to China, and the State Department eventually sought and received assurances from the Chinese that they would treat the men humanely. But senior officials finally decided not to repatriate them, citing China's past treatment of the Uyghur minority.

As John Bellinger, Legal Adviser, State Department, testified before the House sub-committee on International Organizations, Human Rights, and Oversight in June 2008:

We are concerned about the situation of the Uyghurs. We made the decision early on because we thought they would be mistreated if returned to China. That even though a number of years back we had concluded not that they were wrongly picked up - they were picked up because they were in a training camp in Afghanistan - but it was concluded rapidly that they were not trying to fight us but they were trying to fight the Chinese. So we made the decision early on that they need to be sent somewhere but they just couldn't be sent back to China.

But even the world's only superpower found that domiciling 17 Uyghurs was beyond its reach.

After the Albanians, in response to considerable American diplomatic and financial inducements, agreed to accept five Uyghurs, the United States couldn't find any country in the world willing to take the rest.

Vijay Padmanabhan, who worked on repatriations as a lawyer for the State Department, talked to Frontline about the largely futile efforts to find another country that would accept the Uyghurs.

Which countries did you approach?

There was a point in 2005 or 2006 when the US government had all of our embassies in every country that was a reasonable possibility go forward and ask them if they would consider accepting Guantanamo detainees for resettlement. African countries, Asian countries, South American countries. Every country in the European Union. And the answer was almost universally no. So without saying, this country is in, this country is out, the reality is that just about every country has been approached on this question.

After Albania stepped up and took the five Uyghurs in 2006 (one of whom recently obtained asylum in Sweden), Chinese pressure on the Albanians has been relentless.

As a result the Albanians have refused to take any more Uyghurs.

The State Department tried to shop the remaining Uyghurs to Germany and Sweden, two countries with Uyghur populations, and also went far afield - way far afield - to places like Gabon in an unsuccessful search for a refuge.

Beijing was also able to prevail upon the Australian government in January 2009 to openly refuse to take any Guantanamo Uyghur detainees, either.

Even as the Bush administration was bedeviled by the practical problem of dispersing the Uyghurs, its efforts were complicated by a major legal issue. Classifying the Uyghurs as "non-enemy combatants" pulled them out of the "war on terror" limbo of sanctioned indefinite detention, and put them in reach of the US legal system and habeas corpus.

The Bush administration was thereby placed in the impossible position of trying to justify the indefinite detention of people who were no threat to the US.

In October 2008, a US judge ruled that the Uyghurs' continued detention at Guantanamo was legally indefensible and called for the detainees to be released into the custody of Rebiya Kadeer and the avowedly non-violent Uyghur emigres in the Washington, DC area.

The Bush administration, reportedly at the insistence of the Department of Homeland Security, decided not to take this opportunity to solve its Uyghur problem with domestic parole. Instead it obtained a stay of the ruling (the decision was reversed by a higher court and is now under appeal) and continued to detain the Uyghurs at Guantanamo.

While Washington has dithered, China has been unwavering in its determination to deny the Uyghurs a refuge outside of Guantanamo or China.

Wherever the US diplomats went, according to the Times, they were dogged by the Chinese government: "The Chinese keep coming in behind us and scaring different countries with whom they have financial or trade relationships," said one administration official, who insisted on anonymity in discussing diplomatic issues.

Now the Chinese government has found an unlikely ally in its battle against the release of the Uyghur detainees: Newt Gingrich.

Supporters of the Uyghurs are guardedly optimistic that the Obama administration will ride out the political storm, mobilize its allies and advocates, and get the Uyghurs' release right on its second try.

But one observer wondered if the Uyghur detainees will be the ones who "turn the lights out at Guantanamo" - the last ones to leave, long after the rest of the camp's population had been dispersed.

Peter Lee writes on East and South Asian affairs and their intersection with US foreign policy.

(Copyright 2009 Asia Times Online (Holdings) Ltd. All rights reserved. Please contact us about sales, syndication and republishing.)

China, Russia face up to Taliban threat
May 15, 2009

Chinese prisons: Horror and reform
Mar 24, 2009

China confronts its Uyghur threat
Apr 18, 2008

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

From Albania, freed Guantánamo prisoner watches detainee debate unfold

Abu Bakker Qassim, a Chinese Uighur who was freed from Guantánamo in 2005, has tried to rebuild a new life as a chef in Tirana, Albania.

Besar Likmeta

From Albania, freed Guantánamo prisoner watches detainee debate unfold
As Congress worries about the dangerous prisoners, a Chinese Uighur asks: Why not release those deemed innocent?
By Besar Likmeta

from the May 22, 2009 edition

Tirana, Albania - While President Barack Obama made his case Thursday for the transfer of Guantánamo Bay detainees, one of the terror camp's former prisoners was studying recipes in a restaurant kitchen here, doing his best to learn the chef skills that will support his new life in this new land.

Abu Bakker Qassim is one of five Chinese Uighurs released to Albania in 2005, after US authorities feared that repatriating them to China would expose them to persecution and human rights violations.

Seventeen of Mr. Qassim's Uighur compatriots remain in Guantánamo, even though they have been found innocent of wrongdoing and have been cleared for release.

Although an increasingly heated debate in the US focuses on how to handle dozens of remaining suspected terrorists held at Guantánamo, the Obama administration faces an equally sticky dilemma over releasing the innocent Uighurs.

The president has gotten resistance from Congress, with some arguing that the Uighurs – guilty or not – could pose a security threat. Other countries are skittish of taking the men, worried of angering China, which wants them returned for trial.

A detour in his path

When Qassim left his home in China's Xingjian Province in 2000, his dream was to reach Turkey, or, preferably, Western Europe.

After setting up a shop in Kyrgyzstan for a year with little success, he joined a larger group of 17 would-be migrants as they set off through the neighboring Central Asian republics.

In 2001, just days before the start of a US bombing campaign aimed at overthrowing the Taliban regime in Afghanistan, the Uighurs arrived in the Afghan city of Jalalabad.

Four days after their arrival, Jalalabad was bombed. The Uighurs left to seek sanctuary in neighboring Pakistan. They could not know that, after an arduous march through the mountains of Tora Bora, the villagers who would greet them warmly on the other side of the border had, only a few days earlier, been blanketed by fliers from US aircraft, promising that whoever "hunts an Arab becomes a rich man."

Though they had no knowledge of the Sept. 11 attacks, the men were handed over to the Pakistan authorities for the promised reward of $5,000. They would spend the next four months in jail in Kandahar, Afghanistan, before being sent to Guantánamo Bay.

"In Kandahar, the Americans realized we had nothing to do with Al Qaeda, but they still shipped us to Guantánamo," Qassim contends. "At that point, we understood that we were flying into hell."

Qassim spent the next five years behind steel bars.

From Cuba to Albania

Qassim and four other Uighurs were not released until May 5, 2006, after a US federal court ruled that their detention was illegal. The release came only hours before an appeals court was expected to order that they be freed.

The Bush administration worked intensely to find a host country for the five men in order to prevent the appeals court from freeing them on American soil. After more than 100 countries refused, the US found a host in Albania, its small ally in the Balkans, says Sabin Willet, a Boston lawyer who defended the Uighurs.

Qassim and the four other Uighurs were flown to Tirana on a Friday. The federal appeals court "was scheduled to hear their case on the following Monday," Mr. Willet says. "They were absolutely sent to Tirana to avoid that hearing."

Not safe to go home

Of the 241 inmates still in Guantánamo, the US says that roughly 60 – including the 17 remaining Uighurs, as well as detainees from Libya, Uzbekistan, and Algeria – cannot be returned to their home country because they risk persecution at the hands of local authorities.

"The remaining Uighurs would pose a threat to no one, and Abu Baker is an example," Willet says, referring to Qassim. "He has lived peacefully in Tirana for more than three years, while the other Uighur men in Gitmo have essentially the same background as Abu Bakker and are as peaceful as he."

Human rights campaigners say that when the US has returned former detainees to countries with poor human rights records, they have faced threats, torture, and persecution.

"If I was sent to China I would most likely end up in jail or executed," Qassim says.

Still trapped

Although overwhelmingly Muslim, Albanian society is strongly secular, and conservative Islam is often frowned upon. When Qassim and the other Uighurs arrived, they wore long beards, prompting concern from locals.

"At the beginning, people looked on us as terrorists, but I think the Albanians have come to understand that we were no such thing," Qassim says. "They were suspicious of our long beards, but now the beards have gone and so have their doubts."

One of the Uighurs relocated to Albania has since been granted political asylum in Sweden [read recent Monitor coverage of his story here] but the other four, including Qassim, are doing their best to move forward with life in Albania.

They have worked as volunteers for a local nongovernmental organization, planted trees in the city, and taken cooking lessons at local restaurants. One of the men received a scholarship to study computer science at American University in Tirana.

Qassim hopes to open his own restaurant soon. Although he is settling into calmer times, he says that being separated from his family for a decade has not been easy.

"My wife was pregnant with twins when I left 10 years ago," he says. "I speak to them on the phone, but hardly have any hope left of being reunited."

Qassim has been working to push for the release of the Uighurs still imprisoned in Cuba. He has written President Obama to urge him to release the men. He says he has faith that they will be freed soon.

Their release will be "good news for us, but also for the American people," he says, "because it will lift the doubts that Guantánamo has created about American democracy."

Meet the real Uyghurs

Meet the real Uyghurs
Wed, 05/20/2009 - 6:29pm

Newt Gingrich needs to read up before he defames my entire ethnic group.

By Nury A. Turkel

Writing in the Washington Examiner last week, former speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives Newt Gingrich warned the Obama administration that a group of 17 Uyghurs, held in Guantánamo Bay since 2002, would be a threat to U.S. national security if transferred to American soil. "[T]hey are trained mass killers instructed by the same terrorists responsible for killing 3,000 Americans on September 11, 2001," he wrote. "They have no place in American communities."

These claims are irresponsible and untrue. And the title of his work, "Let's NOT meet the Uyghurs" extends the accusation to all Uyghur people. Uyghurs are not terrorists; nor are they a threat. In fact, Uyghurs could be a natural U.S. ally.

Uyghurs are the Tibetans you haven't heard about. Ethnic Turkic people from the Chinese Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region, Uyghurs have long faced discrimination and persecution as a minority -- a fact recognized repeatedly by the U.S. Congress and State Department, which has noted China's insidious strategy of using the U.S. war on terror as pretext to oppress independent religious leaders and peaceful political dissenters. Uyghurs' struggle for self-rule is one against dictatorship and communism, not one to establish a sharia state through violence (as Gingrich claims, in a curious echo of Chinese government propaganda).

Nothing about the Uyghur cause involves hostility toward the United States or association with terrorist groups. In the case of the detained Uyghurs, this too has been recognized by the United States. In June 2008, a D.C. Circuit Court unanimously ruled that the U.S. government's designation of Huzaifa Parhat, one of the 17 Uyghurs at Guantánamo, as an enemy combatant was invalid. The U.S. government's case, they concluded, was insufficient, unreliable, and based on attenuated guilt-by-association reasoning. The panel found no evidence that Parhat was a member of the East Turkestan Islamic Movement (ETIM), that ETIM was associated with either al Qaeda or the Taliban, or that ETIM had ever fought against the United States. Supposed proof that detainees had undergone "terrorist training" is dubious at best. The detainees were able to break down and reassemble a single Kalashnikov rifle. To classify this experience as "terrorist training" would require a radical logic leap.

Every one of the 17 Uyghur detainees at Guantánamo has repeatedly denied being part of ETIM, or of being sympathizers of al Qaeda or the Taliban. They should remain innocent -- both legally and in public discourse -- unless proven guilty.

As the discussion about the fate of these men goes forward, it is not the danger that the Uyghur detainees pose to the United States that is of greatest concern, but the danger China poses to detainees. Were it not for the grave threat of persecution that these men face from the Chinese government, they would have been returned home years ago. In just one example from 2002, a U.S. Department of Justice report cites claims that U.S. agents at Guantánamo collaborated with Chinese counterparts in the rough treatment of Uyghur detainees prior to scheduled interviews with the Chinese agents.

Finding a new home for the displaced Uyghurs is the U.S. government's duty. Gingrich finds preposterous the idea of relocating them to a place like, as he put it, "Fairfax Country Virginia, where there is already a sizable (non-terrorist) Uighur community." But why is the idea so preposterous? The Uyghurs are not a threat to U.S. communities. Just look at the five Uyghur companions who were released from Guantánamo in 2006 and have lived peaceably and productively in Europe for three years now.

I am a new citizen of the United States, but I know enough about the shining ideals that brought me -- and millions of other immigrants -- here to know that fearmongering rhetoric like Gingrich's is the real threat to America.

Nury A. Turkel is a Uyghur-American attorney in Washington.

Photo: Ethan Miller/Getty Images for Comedy Central
Nury A. Turkel | Permalink | | Comments? Login or register

Click Here!

The man behind the curtain
by arvay on Thu, 05/21/2009 - 8:29am

Newt is a classic American type -- the all-purpose Huckster.

Having been upchucked after his famous attempt to shut down the US government, he's desperately mixing new Magic Elixir formulas in the hope that something, somehow, some way, will taste good to the gullible -- and propel him back to center stage.

Obviously, Know-Nothing characterizations of people he thinks can be portrayed as menacing are not beneath or beyond his ADD-driven politics. If the "Uyghur menace" doesn't catch on, maybe next week he'll position Turkish coffee as an Islamofascist plot.

Our "infotainment" TV outlets (I mean that in the cloacal sense) will not stop giving him air time, for sure. They keep assuring that large numbers of Americans remain wildly misinformed about the world, something the Newts of America depend upon.

* Login or register to post comments

You're not getting the
by blue13326 on Mon, 05/25/2009 - 3:24pm

You're not getting the cultural reference, so you're misunderstanding the title of his work. He does not mean to extend his remarks to all Uyghurs; you can only think this if you don't get the cultural reference, which is to a series of movies ('Meet the Parents,' 'Meet the Fockers').

These particulur Uyghurs, by the way, were mostly nabbed fleeing a Turkistan Islamic Party (TIP) terror training camp in eastern Afghanistan during the U.S. invasion following 9/11. TIP, or ETIM, as you refer to them, just last month released a video in which they praised the jihad of al-Queda in Iraq and the Taliban. The video was released through an Al Qaeda-affiliated Web site, Al-Fajr, and includes clips showing "mujahadeen brothers" blowing up U.S. military Humvees. Obama's Treasury Department designated the group's leader, Abdul Haq, as "a member of Al Qaeda's Shura Council" on Apr. 20.

The fact of the matter is these men belong to a group designated by our government on its list of designated terrorists. Lying here about these facts and pretend PC outrage will not help them.

Uyghur Children’s ‘Identities Changed’

Uyghur Children’s ‘Identities Changed’

They're well cared for, staff say, but ethnic Uyghur children are required to assume Chinese identities in a Xinjiang orphanage.


Uyghur children sit inside the barred window of their home in Xinjiang, Aug. 18, 2000.

HONG KONG—Children belonging to the ethnic Uyghur minority at an orphanage in northwestern China routinely undergo changes of identity in which they assume Chinese names, according to current and former employees.

“When I started working in this institution in 1998, there were about 30 Uyghur children,” Amangul, a former teacher at the Urumchi Welfare Institution for Abandoned Children, said.

“At least 10 of their names and file details were all changed to Chinese,” she added.

She said a Uyghur boy of 10 had his name changed from Turghunjun, denoting his Muslim, Turkic ethnicity, to Wang Bin, a Han Chinese name.

We use only the Chinese language here, and we rename Uyghur children with Chinese names in the case of those who have no family records."

Orphanage worker

A seven-year-old called Alim had his name changed to Xin Xia, while Arzigul, 10, was forced to answer to Li Li.

“There is a record in the archives that shows where they came from,” Amangul said. “The surname represents which province the child is from, while the given name represents which region the child is from.”

An employee who answered the phone at the orphanage confirmed Amangul’s account.

“We use only the Chinese language here, and we rename Uyghur children with Chinese names in the case of those who have no family records,” she said.

She said the orphanage was home to around 400 children, most of whom were Han Chinese.

“Most of them are mentally challenged. There are many Han Chinese children,” she said. “We have only a few Uyghur children.”

Social crisis

Chinese curbs on the traditional Muslim culture of the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region are creating a social crisis among Uyghur youth, according to experts and Uyghurs at home and overseas.

According to exiled Uyghur businesswoman Rebiya Kadeer, for many years the Uyghur people were able to preserve their identity and way of life under Chinese rule, which began after the demise of a short-lived East Turkestan republic in the late 1930s and 40s.

But she has accused Beijing of “brainwashing” Uyghur youth by forcing them to adopt Han Chinese ways, mostly through the education system and other institutional means.

Children well looked after

An office director at the orphanage surnamed Xu said the children at the orphanage ranged from infants to 20-year-olds, with some of them “mentally challenged.”

“We only have a few Uyghur children here, and they speak their own language among themselves,” Xu said. “But in general, everyone uses the Chinese language here.”

“You are asking very sensitive questions. For more detailed questions you should ask higher level officials,” he added.

The officials said the children were well looked after and healthy, which was confirmed by former teacher Amangul.

“They were brought to this institute from different parts of Urumchi city,” said Amangul, who said she was disciplined with night-shift and mental-health related assignments for protesting the name changes.

“Yes, they are very healthy. Most of their parents are in jail for political offenses,” she said.

Children were also frequently transferred to foster homes in the rest of China, where they lived in a Han Chinese environment, and were fed pork and dog meat as part of their diet, she said. Both meats are forbidden to Muslims.

Those who protested were severely punished, Amangul added, who said Arzigul, 10, was disciplined for refusing to eat the food served to her.

“After she came back she was criticized, not allowed to talk to the other Uyghur children or Uyghur teachers, forced her to use her Chinese name Li Li, punished without food, and put in solitary confinement for two days,” Amangul said.

The female orphanage employee also confirmed that it was possible for Uyghur children to be fostered by Han Chinese families.

Muslim cook

Meanwhile, Amangul said the orphanage had once paid a Muslim to cook for the Uyghur children, but had later served only Han Chinese-style food, which contains forbidden meats such as pork.

“There are seven cooks. All of them are Chinese. When I started working here in 1998, there was one Chinese Hui [Muslim minority]. After he left, they didn’t hire any more Muslims to replace him,” Amangul said.

She said her husband, Mutallip, also a member of staff at the orphanage, was punished for suggesting separate dining halls for Muslims and Han Chinese.

“I opposed changing Uyghur names to Chinese, and I was petitioning to establish a Muslim dining hall and bring in a Muslim cook,” Mutallip said.

“They said that my Uyghur nationalistic feeling was too strong, and sent me to work in the furnace room for hard labor from October 2001 to April 2002."

Mutallip, who is a university graduate, said he also had to work for six weeks in the kitchen.

He added that Amangul was allocated the night-shift and work with mentally ill children, for which she was untrained, for expressing sympathy for Arzigul.

Curbs on religion

Uyghurs constitute a distinct, Turkic-speaking, Muslim people living in northwestern China and Central Asia.

China has accused Uyghur separatists of fomenting unrest in Xinjiang, particularly in the run-up to and during the Beijing Olympics in August last year when a wave of violence hit the vast desert region. The violence prompted a crackdown in which the government says 1,295 people were detained for state security crimes.

Many Uyghurs resent Chinese rule in the region, and they, along with rights groups and Western analysts, accuse Chinese authorities of taking heavy-handed aim at their unique ethnic identity, notably by suppressing Islam and mores associated with it such as beards worn by men and headscarves by women.

In its 2008 annual report, the U.S. Congressional-Executive Commission on China (CECC) described the regional government in Xinjiang as "[maintaining] the harshest legal restrictions on children's right to practice religion."

"Regionwide legal measures forbid parents and guardians from allowing minors to engage in religious activity," the report said.

"Local governments continued to implement restrictions on children's freedom of religion, taking steps including monitoring students' eating habits during Ramadan and strengthening education in atheism, as part of broader controls over religion implemented in the past year."

Original reporting by Mihray for RFA’s Uyghur service. Director: Dolkun Kamberi. Written for the Web in English by Luisetta Mudie. Edited by Sarah Jackson-Han.

Copyright © 1998-2009 Radio Free Asia. All rights reserved.

Tuesday, May 12, 2009


A Worrying Wish List from Washington


Berlin is being asked to take in nine Guantanamo inmates. So far the development is perceived as a first test of trans-Atlantic relations under President Barack Obama. In Germany, there are legitimate questions about the Uighur Chinese it is being asked to take in --but the Interior Ministry also appears to be buying time in an election year.

Yes, he travelled to Afghanistan. Yes, he learned to fire a semi-automatic weapon there. "But I only ever used the weapon once, I shot four or five bullets. And never at people. And never in combat situations."

That's what Hassan Anvar told his captors at Guantanamo about his time at a training camp in the mountainous Tora Bora region in Afghanistan. He also told them that he doesn't hold a grudge against the United States of America or its allies. "I went to the camp to train to fight against the Chinese," he said.

Yet these are the kinds of quotes -- and stories -- that have been exciting debate in Berlin and worrying the regional governments in states like Bavaria. Because if it was up to the Obama administration, individuals like Anvar would already be on a plane bound for Germany -- most likely, with a one-way ticket and best wishes for the future. A future somewhere as far away as possible from the United States, that is.

Following the first visit by US Attorney General Eric Holder to Berlin the week before last, representatives of the German government also met with Daniel Fried, assistant secretary of state for European affairs and the senior diplomat who has, among his responsibilities, the task of trying to resettle as many as 60 of the remaining prisoners at Guantanamo outside of the US.

Officially Holder said there were no specific requests being made of Germany -- but then Fried quietly passed on a list of nine potential names. Hassan Anvar's name was on that list as were eight others, all of whom have much in common with him.

Find out how you can reprint this DER SPIEGEL article in your publication.
Anvar, who is in his mid-30s, comes from the village of Tashkoruq in the Chinese province of Xinjiang. Anvar is from the Uighur ethnic group, mainly resident in eastern and central Asia. The Uighurs make up almost half of the population of the Xinjiang region, are mainly Muslim and have been the subject of brutal repression by the Chinese. Shortly after the September 11 attacks in the US, and under some pressure from the Chinese government, Washington moved to recognize the East Turkistan Islamic Movement (ETIM) -- to which Anvar and the other potentially Germany-bound Uighurs belong -- as a terrorist organization. As a result more than 20 ETIM members were brought to Guantanamo as "enemy combatants."

The Obama administration's wish to grant Anvar and his fellow prisoners asylum of some sort in Europe has divided German politicians. German Chancellor Angela Merkel has used the opportunity to send a friendly message to Washington saying she is ready to offer her "help and support" in this matter.

During their weekend party conference, the Greens declared their willingness to accept the Uighurs. Obama's planned closure of Guantanamo should not be hindered "by refusal, or by protracted consideration," they said.

Meanwhile Bavaria's Interior Minister Joachim Herrmann -- of the Christian Social Union, Bavaria's sister party to Merkel's Christian Democrats -- called the request an "imposition" by the US. "We don't need people like this in Germany," he told the mass circulation tabloid Bild. "It would be extremely naive (of German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier) to let these people into the country." Steinmeier himself, though, has kept relatively quiet on the subject -- though he has been consistent in his support of the Obama administration.

In addition to issues of security, however, Steinmeier is equally concerned with the issue's foreign policy implications. Firstly, this is one of the initial tests of the new trans-Atlantic relationship between the central Europeans and the Americans since the change of administration in the White House. At the same time Steinmeier, who is also the Social Democratic candidate for chancellor, has to consider the damage it could do to at-times volatile German-Chinese relations. As soon as the Obama administration's wishes with regard to the Uighur prisoners were made public, a variety of Chinese diplomats paid a visit to Steinmeier's offices. What, they wondered, was the German position on this Uighur question? The Chinese were told that a final decision had not yet been made.

Interior Minister Wolfgang Schäuble (CDU), for his part, is likely to resist accepting the Uighurs. His ministry is responsible for deciding whether the former Guantanamo prisioners will pose a security threat to Germany. And, after a first look at the information that Washington had supplied about the prisoners, the German reaction was curt. Some very important questions remain unanswered, August Hanning, a top official at the Interior Ministry wrote to Reinhard Silberberg, his colleague in the Foreign Ministry. There are at least four issues that need to be clarified, he said. The relatively thin dossiers on the prisoners indicated they had gone through a terrorist training camp and had spread propaganda for their organization ETIM. "So we can assume a potential for danger, at least in the abstract," Hanning said.

But, Hanning continued, the dossiers from Guantanamo did not touch upon whether the prisoners could have become more radicalized during their years at Guantanamo. He also asked whether the Americans would ever allow the Uighurs onto American soil. And finally, Hanning wanted to know why the Uighurs could not be returned to Kirgizia or Kazakhstan, where they had lived before they were imprisoned. "It's not really obvious to me why exactly the German Federal Republic should be taking these individuals in," he said.

The letter can be read as a preliminary rejection by the Interior Ministry in addition to being a campaign ploy ahead of German general elections this autumn. Furthermore, Schäuble is aware that the Obama administration will be unable to answer the questions in full. It is a ploy for time and an attempt to push the problem back onto the Foreign Ministry and through them, back onto the Americans. Before the questions are answered in Washington, no final decisions can be made in Berlin, seems to be the message. Schäuble, of course, knows that he probably won't be able to refuse indefinitely, but until then he wants to raise the price for his co-operation as high as possible.

In a reply to Schäuble, the Foreign Ministry suggests that a solid catalogue of questions be developed, which can then be forwarded to Washington through diplomatic channels. If, after this, questions still remain, "German security experts and medical personnel could be flown to Washington for further talks, and possibly even to Guantanamo to talk with the Uighurs themselves."

Then again, even if the dossiers were more helpful, Schäuble would still have a dilemma on his hands. Because basically it would be almost impossible to come to a decision about the Uighur prisoners from the information the Germans have been given. After all, the incriminating evidence comes from a place where prisoners were regularly abused and where human and legal rights were often ignored. In fact, outside of the dossiers themselves, American judges have cleared the Uighur prisoners of any suspicion that they were "enemy combatants." And even the US Administration has declared them not guilty.

Still, Schäuble's security analysts have to take all details into account. The 29 year old Uighur, Adel Noori, for example, spat at his wardens. Arkin Mahmud, 44, made death threats against his guards and also against former US President George W. Bush; he's also known to have thrown excrement. A particularly difficult case could be that of Ahmad Tourson, 38, who acknowledged he had worked for ETIM and received weapons training.

As for Abdul Razak, 30, his US captors said that he received military training and that he travelled to Tora Bora where Osama bin Laden also was. However Razak told his lawyers that the first time he had even heard about ETIM, let alone al-Qaida, was in the prison. Which is why the US lawyer Seema Saifee, who represents four of the nine former prisoners potentially bound for Germany, considers the dossiers simply absurd. "American judges have rejected these allegations yet now other countries are supposed to make a decision based upon them," she complains.

Sign up for Spiegel Online's daily newsletter and get the best of Der Spiegel's and Spiegel Online's international coverage in your In- Box everyday.

Of all of the remaining Guantanamo prisoners, the Uighurs are the group "with the least risks", argue high ranking US Officials. And there is also a high possibility of successful integration into the German community, mainly because of a large Uighur community in Munich. There are around 500 Uighurs living in the Bavarian state capital, making it one of the largest such exile communities in the world. They have their own fast food outlets and supermarkets, not to mention a common language and culture. One of the former prisoners, Noori, even has a cousin there, who's been living in Munich for the past nine years.

Still after the lukewarm reception that US Attorney General Holder got during his European trip, Washington now seems to realize they too might have to take a couple of Uighurs in before European allies like Germany do the same -- if for no other reason than to present a common front to the Chinese.

Former State Department legal advisor John Bellinger believes it is "very probable" that the Obama Administration will do this. You cannot expect the Europeans to do what you are not prepared to do yourselves, said another high ranking American official, who believes that Germany could eventually be asked to consider further prisoners of different nationalities.

When it comes to the Uighurs, time is running out for the Obama adminstration. A US judge ordered the release of all 17 of the remaining Uighur prisoners last October. A court of appeals upheld that ruling, but another lawsuit is pending. Obama has to hurry -- otherwise American judges may force him to allow the former prisoners into America. Meanwhile his attorney general is looking on the bright side, in the hope that the matter can be resolved in good time. As Holder said in Berlin, "nowhere have I heard a definitive no."


Diplomatic memos reveal Chinese effort to block Guantánamo prisoner's asylum bid

Diplomatic memos reveal Chinese effort to block Guantánamo prisoner's asylum bid

The US has cleared the Uighur prisoners at Gitmo of wrongdoing, but China calls them "terrorists." Seventeen Uighurs are seeking political asylum in Sweden, Canada, the US, and Germany.
By Ritt Goldstein | Contributor to The Christian Science Monitor

from the May 12, 2009 edition

Dalarna, Sweden - Newly revealed documents provide a rare glimpse at the diplomatic pressure used by China in its unsuccessful efforts to stop the Swedish government from granting asylum to a Uighur prisoner released from the Guantánamo prison.

Resettling the remaining 17 Uighur prisoners is widely viewed as a critical milestone in the Obama administration's plan to close the prison camp. If Sweden's example is any indication, the imprisoned Uighurs present a foreign-policy Gordian knot.

The men are members of a largely Muslim minority in western China. They have been ruled innocent, but are considered terrorists at home. And while they are among the 30 of Guantánamo's 241 remaining prisoners who have been cleared for release, they remain behind bars.

The formerly classified Swedish government documents show how foreign-policy concerns could be contributing to their ongoing detention. Given China's rising economic and political clout, much could be at stake for countries who agree to offer homes.

The memos from the Swedish Foreign Office note how China viewed it as " 'impossible to understand' that Swedish authorities had given a visa for this terrorist," and how "very 'unsatisfied' " China was that Sweden's Migration Court had granted Adil Hakimjan protection.

The memos detail contacts between the Chinese Embassy and Sweden's Foreign Office, and highlight escalating Chinese pressure involving the potentially precedent setting case of Mr. Hakimjan, a Uighur merchant. Hakimjan's Stockholm attorney, Sten De Geer, recently obtained the documents under Swedish freedom of information law.

China's impatience with Hakimjan's asylum bid was obvious in the memos. "The Chinese Embassy in Stockholm has, a number of times, contacted the [Swedish] Foreign Office, both in this case and also referring to the more general question if Sweden is going to receive any Uighurs when the camp at Guantánamo is going to be closed," wrote the Foreign Office's China desk director in one of the documents.

Hakimjan, who was captured by a bounty hunter in Pakistan in 2001, was released from Guantánamo in 2006 and now lives in Sweden. A court there upheld his bid for political asylum in April.

Germany is now considering a US request that it accept nine of Guantánamo's Uighurs. Seven others are being considered for resettlement in the US.

China wants Uighurs returned for trial

Although the Uighurs have been cleared of wrongdoing, China views them as domestic terrorists and wants to see them returned for trial.

Following Albania's acceptance of five Guantánamo Uighurs in 2006, Albania suffered " 'a big diplomatic and economic hit,' " according to a Pentagon official quoted in a Feb. 18 Los Angeles Times story. The Times's Pentagon source added that "no one wants to do that again."

China denies that it unduly pressured the Swedes. "Saying so-called Chinese pressure is a block on the closure of Guantánamo Bay is ridiculous," Zhou Lulu, press officer for China's Stockholm embassy, said in an interview. "As we said, the Uighur terrorist suspects should be returned to China for a fair trial, but not sheltered for further terrorist activity, nor detained without trial – that is an international obligation for all countries."

Addressing the Chinese position, Amnesty International spokeswoman Sharon Singh observed that "since the Uighurs have been persecuted in the past, it's a bit dubious that the Chinese would hold fair trials for these men."

According to the documents, China repeatedly branded Hakimjan and the other Guantánamo Uighurs as "terrorists." Two of the memoranda, dated from February, detailed China's requests that information it provided on Hakimjan be turned over to Sweden's Justice Department, which was stated as done.

Subsequently, in late April, Swedish courts ultimately upheld Hakimjan's bid for political asylum.

Mr. De Geer, Hakimjan's attorney, says the memos underscore the "fierce urgency for now is that Europe loudly reaffirm its unwavering commitment to a fundamental value system based on respect for, and defense of, human rights." He further observed that the "imminent fate of Guantánamo's Uighurs will constitute our litmus test."

For Washington, the resettlement of those found innocent of wrongdoing, yet remaining at Guantánamo, is key to the prison's closure.

The Obama administration's intent to resettle seven Guantánamo Uighurs in the US has raised domestic debate, with critics casting Uighurs as Islamic jihadists intent on forming terror cells. This is despite the fact that the Bush administration cleared all of the Uighurs of wrongdoing in September 2008.

Canada was earlier approached by three Guantánamo Uighurs seeking protection, with the outcome of the cases uncertain. Canada's Department of Foreign Affairs and International Trade declined to comment on the status of the cases.

Seema Saifee, attorney for two of the Uighurs seeking sanctuary in Canada, says that the "determination to offer refugee protection to the Uighurs must be made according to Canadian law and regulations, not politics."

Roots of China's angst over the Uighurs

Uighurs are facing similar issues regarding their homeland, China's Xinjiang Province, as those endured by Tibetans, says Central Eurasian expert Gardner Bovingdon. He says China's playing of the terrorist card is part of "its strategy for exploiting the 'global war on terror' to serve its particular political purposes in Xinjiang, and also abroad – wherever Uighurs exist in diaspora."

Professor Bovingdon, of the Department of Central Eurasian Studies at Indiana University, explains China's efforts as attempts "to nullify Uighur political activism inside, and outside, Xinjiang." He views such efforts as part of a campaign "to delegitimize" Uighur groups, noting Chinese attempts to "depict Uighur separatists, and even Uighur dissidents" who are nonviolent and do not explicitly advocate independence for Xinjiang, as "terrorists."

China's actions arise from a concern over the possibility of a "post-Soviet 'breakup,' political domino effect that involves foreign intervention," with this potential scenario occurring "in the name of humanitarian protections," Bovingdon says, adding that China is concerned that this could conceivably provide a shield for Uighur or Tibetan secession.

China's Stockholm embassy spokesperson previously told the Monitor that no government "wants fragmentation of its own state."

Thomas Hammarberg, the Council of Europe's Commissioner for Human Rights, sees Chinese "pressures" as emphasizing the "need to ensure that the other Uighurs – those still in Guantánamo as well those four remaining in Albania, – are protected from the risk of being deported to China."

Reflecting widely felt European sentiment, Commissioner Hammarberg then addressed the implications presented by the long incarceration of men found to be innocent.

"US authorities have the primary responsibility for correcting the damage they brought on these persons, and should offer them permits to stay. However, European countries should be prepared to receive some of these wrongly detained people as well."

Referring to US Attorney General Eric Holder's recent request that Germany accept nine of the Guantánamo Uighurs, Hammarberg says, "It is encouraging that Germany appears to be ready to welcome a group of them."

Jens Ploetner, spokesman for the German Foreign Office, addressed the issue of Chinese "pressures" only by saying that the "German Foreign Office is aware of the Chinese concerns." He added that Germany is "at the beginning of an internal discussion within the German government and with our partners," adding, "no concrete decision has been taken yet."

Mr. Ploetner also added, however, that as Germany was among the first of those to call for the closure of Guantánamo, "it is therefore only logical that we are now looking into ways how to support the efforts of the new US administration to close the camp."

Enduring stigma from Guantánamo

Hakimjan, the Uighur who is now trying to rebuild his life in Sweden, says he feels blighted by the terrorist label. After he was released from the prison, he said he sometimes felt as if someone "put a hat on my head with the writing 'terrorist,' and it's extremely difficult to take off this hat and throw it away."

In an interview with the Monitor following Sweden's recent decision to provide him with protection, one of the first things Hakimjan said was that "I hope the world now realizes I'm not a dangerous person and that my friends are not, as well."

Friday, May 08, 2009

Holder, GOP Spar Over Fate of Guantanamo Detainees

Holder, GOP Spar Over Fate of Guantanamo Detainees

Attorney General Eric Holder sparred with congressional Republicans Thursday over the future of inmates currently being held at Guantanamo Bay. Special correspondent Simon Marks reports on the arguments and focuses on the fate of a group of Muslims from China, known as Uighurs.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Next, the political battle over the detainees still being held at the U.S. detention center in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.

Attorney General Eric Holder sparred with Republicans in Congress today over the future of the inmates being held at Guantanamo, as special correspondent Simon Marks reports.

SIMON MARKS: The attorney general was on Capitol Hill this morning testifying at a U.S. Senate hearing on the Justice Department's budget.

But the talk soon turned to the president's executive order, signed two days after his inauguration, that mandates the closure of the detention center in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.

Last week, in Europe, the attorney general announced that 30 of the 241 remaining Guantanamo inmates have now been approved for release, seven years after the detention center opened. At its height, it housed more than 625 prisoners.

Today, as the U.S. presses European nations to accept some of the detainees awaiting freedom, Washington is coming under pressure to do the same.

ERIC HOLDER, attorney general: The paramount consideration that we will have is the safety of the American people.

SIMON MARKS: In a contentious exchange with Republican Senator Richard Shelby of Alabama, the attorney general said the Obama administration has no plans to allow terrorists to walk the streets of the USA.

ERIC HOLDER: A transfer or release of these detainees will only happen in those instances where we are convinced that that can be done in a way that the communities that receive them -- overseas, with our allies -- will not have any impact on the safety of the place that is receiving -- that is receiving them.

SEN. RICHARD SHELBY, R-Ala.: Excuse me a minute. Excuse me. Are you saying that, one, you believe you have the legal authority to bring terrorists into this country and disperse them around the country in the communities?

ERIC HOLDER: What I'm saying is that, with regard to those who you would describe as terrorists, we would not bring them into this country and release them, anybody who we consider to be a terrorist.

Republicans seek to block transfers

SIMON MARKS: That pledge failed to dissuade the Republicans from launching a bill -- the Keep Terrorists Out of America Act -- that would block the transfer to the U.S. of any Guantanamo inmates, those cleared for freedom and those who may eventually go on trial.

REP. PETER KING, R-N.Y.: A number of these detainees could be brought to the southern district of New York to stand trial, which is literally within walking distance of Ground Zero, it's within walking distance of city hall, within walking distance of the Brooklyn Bridge, police headquarters.

And the thought of having any number of these detainees at Guantanamo, the security provisions that would require, the risk it would create, and, again, being literally in the shadow of Ground Zero, I find not just offensive, but also extremely dangerous.

SIMON MARKS: Caught in the middle of the increasingly intense political battle over Guantanamo's future are 17 detainees who were cleared for release more than four years ago.

Muslims from China's Uyghur community, they claim they could be tortured by Chinese authorities if they're returned to their native Xinjiang province in the north of the country.

Instead, a U.S. district court last year ordered the Uighurs to be resettled here, in Fairfax County in northern Virginia. There's a vibrant Uighur community here, the largest in the country, and 17 local families have offered to take the 17 Guantanamo detainees into their homes.

Uighurs first came here, near Washington, D.C., as students back in the 1980s. Their numbers started to swell amid allegations of Chinese repression during the mid-'90s.

Alim Seytoff of the Uyghur American Association says the detainees pose no threat to the peace and tranquility of northern Virginia.

ALIM SEYTOFF, Uyghur American Association: We do have families here who are ready to help them, take them into their houses. They do have separate bedrooms, I understand, to house them, to provide them food, and to provide them a feeling of they belong to this community.

Also, everything needed in the house, like daily articles they need, things like that. And also provide them any kind of support they need, in terms of locating a job and if they need any kind of other assistance.

Concerns over Uyghur detainees

SIMON MARKS: The Chinese government wants the Uyghur detainees sent home, but both the Bush and Obama administrations have been fearful of the fate that may await the 17 detainees in Xinjiang province, where human rights organizations have claimed the Uighurs' Muslim faith is "under wholesale assault by the state."

But Republicans continue to raise concerns about freeing the Uighurs from Guantanamo, more than four years after their classification as enemy combatants was officially dropped by the government.

In a commentary published earlier this week on the conservative Web site Human Events, the Virginia congressman Frank Wolf wrote, "Information I have received indicates that the 17 Uyghurs being held at Guantanamo may be more dangerous than the public has been led to believe."

That's an allegation an attorney representing six of the Uighur detainees vigorously denies.

SUSAN BAKER MANNING, lawyer for Guantanamo detainees: The perception that these men are somehow terrorists is just flat wrong. They were cleared by the military in 2003, they have been exonerated by the courts, and the Bush administration has conceded that they're not enemy combatants.

These men are not, and they never were terrorists. So any sort of fear that people might have is just based on a misperception, and we hope to correct that perception.

SIMON MARKS: Supporters of the Uyghurs today filed a brief with the Supreme Court, urging it to order their release.

The Justice Department's budget request includes funding for a proposed task force to consider what to do with each of the 241 inmates tonight spending another evening in Guantanamo Bay

Video Link:

Monday, May 04, 2009

China razes the cradle of a culture

China razes the cradle of a culture

Paul Mooney, Foreign Correspondent

* Last Updated: May 03. 2009 8:27PM UAE / May 3. 2009 4:27PM GMT

An Uighur man sits on the pavement in the Old Town of Kashgar, under threat of demolition from the Chinese. Paul Mooney for The National

KASHGAR, CHINA // An old way of life is coming to a crashing end in north-western China with two-thirds of Kashgar’s Old City being bulldozed over the past few weeks under a government plan to “modernise” the area.

The few remaining houses still standing are marked with an ominous-looking Chinese character written in red with a circle drawn around it. The character, pronounced “chai” in Chinese, means demolish.

A government plan worth US$440 million (Dh1.6 billion) calls for the relocation of 65,000 Uighur households, about 220,000 people, whose families have lived in the Old City for centuries. Until a few weeks ago, the area housed 40 per cent of the city’s residents in its labyrinth-like alleyways, where the naturalness of the life made it a popular tourist destination and one that was not ruined by tourism.

For centuries, children played on the cobblestone streets of the Old City, mothers standing in the doorways of their mud-brick dwellings chatting with neighbours, their faces covered by scarves. Bearded men wearing embroidered doppas (skullcaps) have walked daily to the many small neighbourhood mosques that pepper the area for prayers, passing by coppersmiths hammering pieces of metal into shiny pots, butchers cutting lamb in the open air and bakers slapping traditional flatbreads on to the sides of a tandoor, a makeshift clay oven.
Grand Hyatt Doha now open - click for more information

According to the state media, the ancient district – which provided the exotic backdrop for Kabul in the movie The Kite Runner – chosen for its close resemblance to that vibrant Afghan city of the 1970s must be torn down because of poor drainage, unsound construction and susceptibility to earthquakes.

Irritated residents claim the government made no attempt to discuss the demolition plan with them or to consider other ways of dealing with the problems.

The Uighurs, a Turkic-speaking Muslim group, have long resented Chinese rule of Xinjiang, which they call East Turkestan. Wang Lequan, the Xinjiang party secretary, announced in March during a visit to Kashgar and Hotan that the two cities were at the “forefront of the fight against the three evil forces of terrorism, extremism and separatism”.

Some Uighurs argue the demolition is part of an orchestrated campaign by the Chinese government to destroy Uighur culture.

“The Old City in Kashgar represents the very essence of Uighur civilisation for thousands of years,” said Rebiya Kadeer, the president of the Uyghur American Association. “The Uighurs consider Kashgar the cradle of Uighur civilisation.

“By destroying Kashgar, the Chinese government will make all East Turkestan cities and towns look just like all other Chinese cities and towns along the east coast. Once Kashgar is destroyed, the unique Uighur and Central Asian character of East Turkestan will become history.”

There are also concerns about how people will earn a living once they are moved far from the centre of tourism – the government plan apparently does not include any mention of job creation. The Uighur community already faces high unemployment rates in the face of government-encouraged migration of Han Chinese from other parts of the country, who have an advantage in competing for jobs.

“If they are going to move to another location, then what they will do for a living?” Mrs Kadeer said. “The housing arrangements and the traditional craftsmanship businesses are interconnected in the old district of Kashgar.”

People in the Old City, as in other parts of Xinjiang, are afraid of speaking out, but snippets of conversations with old residents show widespread feelings of frustration combined with resignation. “It’s a headache for everyone,” said one 70-year-old man. “Mei banfa, mei banfa,” he continued in fluent Chinese. “There’s nothing we can do, nothing we can do.” He said his family had lived in the Old City for three generations.

A man sitting beside him pushed his two hands in a downward motion and mimicked government officials, who have told him to “move, move, move”.

Both men say they have no idea where exactly they will be moved to and they say no one has talked to them about compensation for their property.

A businessman sitting in a coffee shop on the edge of the Old City said people did not care about being compensated. “Money is not important to them right now,” he said. “For them what’s important is that they were born here and grew up here.”

He then expressed a common concern. “Living in a new apartment building, there is no community feeling; you don’t have contact with anyone. The doors in the Old City are always open and everyone knows each other. “I don’t want to leave,” he said, his face showing anger. Foreign experts play down arguments that the demolition is politically motivated.

“I don’t see it as a deliberate attack on Uighur culture, but part of China’s policy to modernise and develop,” said Dru Gladney, the president of the Pacific Basin Institute and an expert on Xinjiang. He said it had more to do with cultural insensitivity than politics.

“The problem is that there is very little plumbing; the electricity is dangerous and it’s in an earthquake zone,” Mr Gladney said. “So you can understand why planners would want to bulldoze it.”

Still, Mr Gladney conceded the loss of the area was sad – and common throughout China. “It does show a cultural insensitivity for Uighurs, who already feel embattled and threatened. Kashgar will never be the same without the quarter.”

Locals scoff at the claims about safety, saying that the damage to the local housing had been minimal in recent earthquakes and that these old structures had fared better than modern ones.

“There was an earthquake in 2004, but none of the houses in the Old City collapsed,” the businessman said. “People in the Old City believe that the old houses are stronger than modern buildings being built. They’ve survived for hundred of years.” Ronald Knapp, a professor emeritus at State University of New York, said there had been some loss of life from cave-ins of adobe structures over the centuries, but Sichuan’s problems seemed to have resulted “more from very poor ‘modern’ construction rather than the shortcomings of traditional practices”.

The government said it would turn a small remaining area into a tourist centre, where it would create an “international heritage scenery” to increase tourism. A recent statement by the Uyghur American Association said there was no indication yet as to who would benefit from a “Chinese-managed Kashgar Old City”. The association expressed a fear that the small remaining section “will take on the characteristics of an open-air museum of Uighur culture, where once a vibrant community lived”.


By William Fisher

The probability that some Guantanamo detainees will soon be released into the U.S. will place the administration of President Barack Obama in the eye of a major political hurricane.

Republicans and some Democrats in Congress have expressed strong opposition to the administration’s reported plan to allow some of the 17 Chinese Uighurs to resettle in the U.S. as part of Obama’s pledge to shut down the controversial prison within a year.

Secretary of Defense Robert Gates has confirmed the plan for the first time, though he added that a final decision had not been made. He said he understood that almost any administration move on Guantanamo was likely to be controversial. Seven has been the reported as the number of Uighurs the administration wants to release into the U.S.

Gates told a Senate appropriations subcommittee last week, "I fully expect to have 535 pieces of legislation before this is over saying, 'Not in my district, not in my state,' " He was referring to the number of senators and members of the House.

But Gates said the Uighurs would face persecution if they were returned to China. He added, "It's difficult for the State Department to make the argument to other countries they should take these people that we have deemed in this case not to be dangerous if we won't take any of them ourselves."

There are currently 17 Uighurs who have been imprisoned at Guantanamo since they were arrested in Pakistan in 2002. While these Muslim men have been declared to pose no threat to U.S. security and have been cleared for release, they remain at the notorious prison because no other countries have offered them asylum. A U.S. appeals court has ruled that admission to the U.S. is a matter of immigration law over which regular U.S. courts have no jurisdiction. That decision has been appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court, which is now considering the matter.

The Uighurs are primarily from northwestern China. China has been criticized for repressing Uighur religious rights and freedoms.

Before their capture, the Uighurs had traveled to Afghanistan, where they received firearms training at a camp reportedly run by a Uighur separatist.

There are about 240 inmates at Guantánamo. 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. France has recently agreed to accept one prisoner and the European Union has said it would consider accepting others. British Justice Secretary Jack Straw said last week that his country would consider taking Guantánamo Bay detainees if the U.S. asks for such help to close the detention center.

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

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

Many legal scholars and most human rights advocates are pressing the Obama Administration to release cleared prisoners into the U.S.

Professor Francis A. Boyle of the University of Chicago Law School told IPS, “Obviously the United States government cannot return them to China, where they will be persecuted, which would violate our obligations under international law. And they certainly cannot be detained indefinitely, which would violate their international human rights, which the Bush administration has already done grievously now for a number of years. The lawful and humanitarian alternative would be to grant them political asylum and admit them into the United States.”

And Jonathan Hafetz, an attorney with the American Civil Liberties Union, told IPS, "It is a violation of basic human rights and our Constitution that the United States is continuing to imprison people, such as the Uighurs, who it acknowledges are innocent and present no danger. These men were swept up by mistake, sold to the U.S. for bounty, and rendered to Guantanamo where they have spent years in prison under often brutal conditions."

He added, "If we are to restore the rule of law, the Uighurs must be released in the United States. Keeping innocent people behind bars at an off-shore prison undermines not only our core values but our security as well."

Release of cleared prisoners is seen as a crucial step to the Obama Administration’s plans to close the prison and relocate the detainees.

To win their freedom, the Uighurs filed suit against the government. Last year, a U.S. district court ordered their release. The decision was appealed by the Bush administration, and was overturned by the U.S. Court of Appeals. Lawyers for the Uighurs have now appealed to the Supreme Court.

Members of a Uighur community in Northern Virginia have offered to help the detainees to resettle there.

In 2006, the U.S. released five Uighurs to 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. Four remain in Albania and one has recently been granted asylum in Sweden.

Within Guantanamo, Uighurs are not considered a grave threat and are allowed privileges such as television, that are not available to other detainees.

Meanwhile, the Obama Administration is continuing to struggle with the issue of what to do with the 50 to 100 detainees at Guantanamo who Secretary Gates told Congress were considered too dangerous to release but could not be tried in U.S. civilian courts because evidence against them was based on hearsay or was obtained through torture.

Gates told Congress that the administration might continue to use the controversial military commissions set up by former President Bush, and later approved by Congress, to prosecute some of the detainees. President Obama ordered a 120-day halt to all military commission trials during his first days in office. That moratorium comes to an end in mid-May.

Lawmakers of both political parties have become increasingly vocal in asserting that the administration announced it would close Guantánamo before it had a plan for housing and prosecuting some detainees and releasing others.

“The question of where the terrorists at Guantánamo will be sent is no joking matter,” according to Senator Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, the Republican leader. “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.”

Members of Congress were already playing the NIMBY (Not in My Backyard) game, pleading with Gates 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.”

Gates has asked for $50 million in case a facility needs to be built quickly to house the detainees. He said he is aware that such a facility would be unpopular with lawmakers.

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

Critics of the administration’s actions have tended to label all Guantanamo detainees as “terrorists,” although many have been cleared for release and there is substantial evidence that other detainees were “sold” to the U.S. military for cash while others were simply “in the wrong place at the wrong time” and should never have been imprisoned in the first place.
Posted by BILL at Monday, May 04, 2009