Monday, June 29, 2009

Rep. Dana Rohrabacher on the Uighurs

Rep. Dana Rohrabacher on the Uighurs

Editor's note: The following letter was submitted by Rep. Dana Rohrabacher, who serves as Ranking Member of the House Foreign Affairs Subcommittee on International Organizations, Human Rights and Oversight, in response to this blog post by Thomas Joscelyn.

Despite the court rulings declaring the Uighurs continued detention in GITMO as unjust and the decision by the Obama administration to finally release them, there are still naysayers who refuse to believe the Uighurs pose no threat to the United States. They never have. Rather, the Uighurs are a Muslim ethnic minority from a remote section of China, who desired to learn how to protect themselves and their homeland against the persecution of the brutal Chinese communist regime. In that quest, they became a pawn in a bigger global chess game between the United States and China’s veto wielding power on the U.N. Security Council at a time when the U.S. needed China’s support for the impending invasion of Iraq. The naysayers, who continue to dismiss this correlation, seem to be more interested in politically expedient fear mongering than the actual facts.

The House Foreign Affairs Subcommittee on International Organizations, Human Rights and Oversight, of which I am the Ranking Member, held two hearings on June 10 and June 16. The hearings respectively focused on the Uighurs historic persecution in the occupied East Turkestan region of China and the nature of Uighur nationalism versus terrorism. Several witnesses during those hearings took issue with the recent news reports and editorials accusing the Uighurs of being associated with al Qaeda affiliated groups, specifically the East Turkestan Islamic Movement (ETIM), engaging in terrorist camp weapons training and allegedly posing a national security threat to the United States.

The oft-repeated accusation that the Uighurs held at Gitmo were members of the ETIM is patently false. Not only have the Uighurs themselves categorically denied this, according to their Combatant Status Review Tribunal (CSRT) statements, but every federal court that has reviewed the case has ruled in favor of the Uighurs. The U.S. District Court of Appeals issued a detailed opinion in Parhat v. Gates (2008) that found no evidence of Huzaifa Parhat’s membership in the ETIM. It rejected the government’s ETIM evidence as “wholly inadequate” on the grounds that it did not establish that ETIM was associated with al Qaeda, or the Taliban, or that they engaged in hostilities against the U.S. or its coalition partners.

Which brings up the curious decision by the United States to designate the ETIM a terrorist group in 2002. During the June 16 subcommittee hearing, Dr. Sean Roberts, associate professor of practice for the Elliot School of International Affairs at The George Washington University, testified that few scholars studying the Uighur people had ever heard of the ETIM in 2002. Dr. Dru C. Gladney, professor, Pomona College, also testified that “it came as a surprise at the conclusion of his August 2002 visit to Beijing, that Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage identified ETIM as the main coordinating Uighur group to be targeted as an international terrorist group. At the time, very few people including activists deeply engaged in working for an independent East Turkistan, had ever heard of the ETIM.”

A Defense Intelligence Agency analyst working on Chinese counterintelligence operations once said, “It’s the mother’s milk of counterintelligence to create phony political organizations.” He also stated that the Chinese are especially good at it and utilize this method in order to know who to watch and who to eventually eliminate.

More after the jump...

In August of 2002, the U.S. was urgently seeking U.N. consensus for military action in Iraq. According to court documents, Iraqi Foreign Minister Naji Sabri traveled to Beijing for “high-level meetings” around the same time as Deputy Secretary Richard Armitage, both seeking Chinese support. However, Mr. Armitage met with the Chinese first. At the conclusion of that meeting on August 26, 2002, Mr. Armitage acknowledged during a press briefing that talks had focused on Iraq and discussions of putting ETIM on the terrorist list did in fact take place. Several weeks later, ETIM was conveniently placed on the official State Department list of terrorist organizations.

It seems the United States offered another concession in exchange for Chinese acquiescence. In September 2002, Chinese intelligence agents were permitted to interrogate the Uighurs held at Gitmo. Amnesty International reported, “It is alleged that during the Chinese delegation’s visit, the detainees were subjected to intimidation and threats,” and “some of the interrogation techniques were alleged to have been on the instruction of the Chinese delegation.” Another Uighur detainee described in court documents a similar scene but also stated an American who identified himself as a “White House representative specifically threatened to send him back to China if he did not cooperate with interrogators.” A month later, President Bush welcomed Chinese President Jiang to Texas to discuss China’s position on potential military action in Iraq.

It’s also important to note that Rep. William Delahunt and I were both denied access to the Uighur detainees as part of our official Oversight Committee’s investigation into their incarceration at Gitmo. Pentagon Spokesman, Bryan Whitman, issued a statement acknowledging foreign nationals are permitted to come into Guantanamo but “Congressmen, the general public, media are not permitted to question detainees. It can only be done in an official capacity and no congressmen can interrogate or question detainees because it is not part of their oversight responsibilities.” Yet our government lays out the welcome mat for Communist Chinese intelligence officers.

Newt Gingrich recently alleged the Uighurs received “jihadist training in weapons, explosives and ideology of mass killing.” This claim is completely unfounded and nothing more than rhetorical exaggeration. The weapons training consisted of learning how to assemble, break down and clean a single Kalashnikov rifle and taking a few shots of target practice in a remote village where they helped build a house and performed odd jobs in exchange for food and shelter. Former detainee Parhat clearly stated that when he decided to leave China he sought training only to fight the Chinese government. As a matter of fact, all of the Uighur detainees say they abhor terrorism.

Abdul Helil Mamut, another detainee recently transferred to Bermuda, corroborated Parhat’s description of the “camp’s” activities. “There was no typical training,” he said. “Whoever volunteered, once in a while, people would run or exercise. One day they showed us an old rusty rifle for about a half hour. Then the second day we shot three to five bullets.” A far cry from any formal terrorist training camp folks like Mr. Gingrich or Thomas Joscelyn would have you believe.

Another repeated falsehood references an incident where a Uighur detainee supposedly threw a television set because women with bear arms appeared on the screen. Once again, untrue. In 2006 a detainee kicked a television set in protest of his continued wrongful imprisonment a year after his CSRT confirmed he was not an enemy combatant. The man who kicked the TV has since been released, attends college in Albania, has a Facebook page, and has been pictured hiking with several women in his group wearing tank tops and a guy wearing an American flag T-shirt.

The bottom line is all of the Uighurs were cleared for release by the U.S. military under the Bush administration, some as far back as 2003. The Bush administration conceded they were not enemy combatants, which translates into a tacit admission they were most likely picked up by mistake and never should have been at GITMO in the first place. The U.S. Court of Appeals examined both classified and unclassified evidence and determined the Uighurs not only posed no threat to the U.S. but also clearly hadn’t committed any acts of violence against anyone.

The truth of the matter is this; The Uighurs mean us no harm and want the communist Chinese out of their homeland in East Turkistan. They are caught up in a quid pro quo between the United States and China. The oppressive Chinese regime is their true enemy, not us.

Thursday, June 25, 2009

Moving on up

Moving on up

Finding homes for the Guantánamo Uighurs is no simple task

Tags: Bermuda, britain, deniability, Guantanamo Bay, national security, Uighurs, United States
Written by Charlie Gillis on Thursday, June 25, 2009

Moving on upIt was a favour, dressed up as a snub. When the United States cut a deal last week to send four Muslim Uighurs from Guantánamo Bay to Bermuda, it did so behind Britain’s back—not out of spite but compassion. Washington’s tin ear for Commonwealth protocol may be legendary. But even it knew London would bristle at being cut out of the loop on a matter of national security. Bermuda, after all, remains a self-governing protectorate of the United Kingdom, which means foreign governments doing business with it are supposed to give the mother country courtesy calls on issues that might carry foreign policy implications.

But as the former detainees roamed the beaches of their new island home, it became increasingly clear that Uncle Sam had spared Britain a massive diplomatic headache. The Guantánamo Uighurs are part of a Muslim separatist movement hailing from China’s far northwestern territory, which Beijing treats as a terrorist threat. Any country that took them in risked diplomatic or economic recriminations from China—though by all accounts the men posed negligible risk. By the weekend, senior U.S. officials were confirming that they had deliberately kept the transfer deal with Bermuda secret, providing the U.K. with some much-needed deniability.

Whether Beijing is buying it is anyone’s guess. But America’s use of deception in the Uighurs’ case is a measure of how far the global power dynamic has shifted since the war on terrorism began. With Congress loath to settle Guantánamo inmates on U.S. soil, the Obama administration had been left scouring the globe for allies willing to host the detainees—encountering China’s shadow at every turn. Canada, for one, declined repeated White House requests to take in some or all of the Uighurs, having already tweaked Beijing by publicly protesting its arrest of Huseyin Celil, a Uighur-Canadian currently imprisoned in China on dubious accusations of terrorism. The Celil affair is widely thought to have damaged Canada’s trading relationship with Beijing, and the prospect of making matters worse was evidently too much for the Harper government to risk. “They didn’t want to compromise trade,” says Mehmet Tohti, a prominent Uighur-Canadian who lobbied on behalf of the men. “I see this as a sign of weakness on Canada’s part.”

Certainly the case against the Guantánamo Uighurs was little better than the tissue of allegations that cost Celil his freedom. The four men in Bermuda counted among 22 who escaped China to Afghanistan in the summer of 2001 but were picked up a few months later by Pakistani forces during the U.S.-led invasion of Afghanistan. They were then turned over to U.S. troops and sent to Guantánamo, where a legal battle ensued over their status as “enemy combatants.”

Five were subsequently sent to Albania, but the other 17 remained in legal limbo until a federal judge ruled last fall they must be released for lack of evidence. Sending them back to China was not an option; they would almost certainly face persecution. So the U.S. was forced to place them in distant countries with little or no trade with China. The South Pacific republic of Palau has agreed to accept 13, while Bermuda received the other four under a program for visiting workers. That prompted a stern rebuke from London, which has promised to review the terms of an agreement granting the island protectorate control over immigration matters.

To David Welch, director of the Trudeau Centre for Peace and Conflict Studies at the University of Toronto, the whole saga is a sign of changing times. “China’s growing importance in the world means people are paying more attention to it,” he says, “and the Chinese play hardball.” But others caution against blaming China for slowing Washington’s attempts to resolve its Guantánamo dilemma—or other countries for failing to help the U.S. out. Having created the “legal black hole” of Guantánamo in the first place, the U.S. bears responsibility to find a place for the detainees within its own borders, says Jeremy Paltiel, an international politics expert at Carleton University in Ottawa. “It’s cowardice,” he says of the White House’s efforts to foist the men on other countries. “Obama won’t confront his own Congress on this, after their own court said let these people go. Why should anybody else solve the problem for them?”

The answer, of course, lies in the time-tested willingness of U.S. allies to lend Uncle Sam a hand, knowing it’s in their long-term interest. Eight years after George W. Bush dispatched the bombers for Afghanistan, Washington needs more favours than ever. But if last week’s machinations are anything to go by, its old friends don’t want to be seen helping out. And Washington knows it.

Sunday, June 21, 2009

Bermuda Premier Faces Scrutiny

Bermuda Premier Faces Scrutiny
Leader Defends Taking Former Guantanamo Prisoners, but Critics See Other Motives


HAMILTON, Bermuda -- Bermuda's top elected official survived a vote of no-confidence after a 14-hour parliamentary debate here over the weekend, but Prime Minister Ewart Brown remains the focus of fiery public debate over the motives that led him to accept four freed prisoners from the U.S. detention facility in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.

Mr. Brown, in an interview, said the decision was "the right thing to do" and that he was happy "to be of help to the United States and to President Obama."

Bermuda Debates Uighurs' Status
Associated Press

Four Uighurs released from U.S. military custody at Guantanamo Bay are being resettled in Bermuda, where the government's decision to take them has stirred controversy. Above, three of the men at an ice cream shop.

In recent days, he has called the move a "humanitarian gesture," considering that the former detainees, Uighur Muslims from western China, can't return to their homeland, where the government considers them a separatist threat.

Yet many of Bermuda's nearly 70,000 people divine the premier's true motives in political goals on distant shores of the Atlantic. By cozying up to the Obama administration, some observers say, Mr. Brown hopes to gain leverage for Bermuda as the U.S. looks to tighten rules on overseas tax shelters.

Mr. Brown has also stoked the old debate over independence for the island by making the decision without consulting Bermuda's territorial overseers in the U.K., not to mention the British-appointed governor on the island.

"He's looking for brownie points with Obama and at the same time trying to make the British get angry," said Ed Rainor, a 68-year-old diesel mechanic, discussing the Uighur transfer with a group of friends at Albouy's Point, a small waterfront park in Hamilton, Bermuda's capital.

Mr. Brown, like most Bermudians, has long navigated the cultural and political divides characteristic of the territory, a verdant and costly island just a two-hour flight east of the Carolinas.

A native of the island, Mr. Brown, 63 years old, is also a former citizen of the U.S., where he studied and practiced medicine in Washington and Los Angeles. Bermuda itself, while a jewel of the British Commonwealth, depends on the inflow of American tourists and dollars from U.S. companies, many of which take advantage of its lack of corporate taxes.

Mr. Brown's decision to accept the Uighurs, who were cleared of any suspicion by the U.S. and are now living freely in a guesthouse near Bermuda's airport, unleashed an outcry from critics enraged that he didn't consult British authorities -- or even his own cabinet -- first. Bermudians learned of the decision on June 11, the morning after the Uighurs were flown here.

Last week, hundreds of protesters called for the premier's ouster in marches through downtown Hamilton, a city of pastel-painted mansions, white roofs, and colonial architecture. Signs read "good deed, wrong way," expressing displeasure not with the arrival of the Uighurs themselves, but with what protesters considered the premier's failure to govern with transparency.

Mr. Brown has repeatedly enacted policies without sufficient public discourse since he took office in 2006, critics say, including controversial changes to a public-health clinic and his handling of a contract for promoting tourism from the U.S.

"Voters of this country have been disrespected by our premier time and time again," said Janice Battersbee, a protest organizer, at a rally last Friday. "Our voices were neither heard nor welcomed."

Mr. Brown says his style is "assertive," but says the decision to take the former Guantanamo prisoners conforms to his government's interpretation of the constitution.

Over the weekend, public speculation turned to the prime minister's motives. Some say Bermuda could press the U.S. for money it has long sought to clean up waste, including fuel spills, at abandoned facilities that the U.S. Navy once used on the island. But most say Mr. Brown wants to use the move to win Bermuda concessions ahead of any U.S. crackdown on offshore tax shelters.

During last year's U.S. election, Barack Obama campaigned on a promise to pursue such measures. A "Stop Tax Haven Abuse Act," now proposed in both houses of Congress, lists Bermuda as one of 34 overseas shelters that could be targeted for sanctions.

A White House spokesman declined to comment on the discussions with Bermuda.

Mr. Brown said there "was no quid pro quo," but added, "it's unrealistic to expect that the relationship between Bermuda and the U.S. was not strengthened."

After objections from the British government over his acceptance of the Uighurs, a move London says is under its authority as foreign and security policy, many Bermudians said they believe Mr. Brown is trying to push for the eventual goal of independence.

Though Bermudians have rejected votes on independence in the past, Mr. Brown and other leaders in the ruling party believe it should eventually happen. "It's always on the agenda but not always on the front burner," he said. "When issues like this come up, it moves to the front."
—Jonathan Weisman in Washington and Alistair MacDonald in London contributed to this article.

Write to Paulo Prada at

Saturday, June 20, 2009

The Myth of the $12 Million Uighur

Op-Ed Contributor
The Myth of the $12 Million Uighur

Article Tools Sponsored By
Published: June 19, 2009

CONGRATULATIONS Palau. Our little country, a group of islands 500 miles east of the Philippines, has become, if only briefly, a household word. President Obama, much admired in Palau, asked our new president, Johnson Toribiong, to do the United States a favor: Please accept, as refugees, a group of innocent Chinese Muslims. They are not anti-American terrorists, but victims of human rights violations, who landed at Guantánamo Bay for seven years. Innocent, stateless, harmless.
Skip to next paragraph
Times Topics: Palau | Uighurs

President Toribiong, a lawyer trained at the University of Washington and a highly regarded litigator, told President Obama and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton that he needed to assure his people that the Uighurs were indeed harmless, and could be integrated into Palau’s small, diverse and friendly culture. Assuming that this due diligence brought satisfactory results, Palau would be pleased to give the refugees temporary residence. Last weekend, he dispatched a number of officials to Guantánamo to interview the Uighurs and review their records.

One would have thought that this positive gesture of friendship from a staunch American ally would have been applauded, at least in the United States. Instead, for reasons that are beyond me, unattributed leaks and unsubstantiated rumors have twisted Palau’s act of decency into another grab for dollars by a cunning third-world country. In breaking the story that Palau was amenable to President Obama’s request, the Associated Press reported that two anonymous State Department officials had linked Palau’s acceptance of the Uighurs to a $200 million payoff.

Almost immediately, much of the news media took the bait, did the math and asserted that Palau was getting nearly $12 million dollars per Uighur. Within a day or two, The Wall Street Journal was pontificating against a shakedown.

Before the story gets too far out of hand, let’s consider a few facts. It is true that the United States and Palau have an economic relationship. Palau has been receiving American aid since it was wrested from the Japanese in 1944. (Over the past 15 years, this has averaged about $56 million a year.) This aid has come with strings; as the United States has always insisted that the Palauan government be ready to promptly turn over land for bases should the security of the United States or Palau require it.

In 1994, the two countries agreed to a 50-year option that allows the United States to use Palau for military purposes. That agreement’s economic terms expire in October 2009, and a new economic package for the remaining 35 years is in the works — and has been for some time. But there has never been a mention of $200 million. And no one has even hinted at linking the deal to Palau’s acceptance of the Uighurs. The United States simply offered to pay relocation costs for the Uighurs of less than $90,000 per person to cover transportation, food, housing and medical help until the men can get oriented and get jobs.

Palau is a small and peaceful community. Its constitution bans weapons of all kinds. Capital crimes are virtually unknown. Social life revolves around the family. Children wander from house to house. Could anyone believe that the leaders of Palau would risk the safety and serenity of their modern Eden in exchange for money? Is it plausible that these close-knit people would countenance the presence of terrorists in their midst? I can assure you the answer is no.

Last week, the Palauans lowered their flags to half-staff in memory of Sgt. Jasper Obakrairur, a Palauan who joined the United States Marines and died on June 1 helping to root out the Taliban in Afghanistan. He was the fourth Palauan serviceman to die in recent years, following his fallen comrades in American uniform Cpl. JayGee Meluat, Cpl. Meresebang Ngiraked and Specialist Philton Ueki. The people of Palau are very proud of them, and of our country’s special relationship with the United States. Can’t Americans be proud of the relationship, too?

Stuart Beck is Palau’s permanent representative to the United Nations.

Bermuda Premier Escapes Censure Over Uighurs

Bermuda Premier Escapes Censure Over Uighurs

Article Tools Sponsored By
Published: June 20, 2009

HAMILTON, Bermuda (AP) — Bermuda’s premier survived a no-confidence vote on Saturday aimed at punishing him for allowing four former Guantánamo prisoners to settle in the British island territory.

Parliament rejected the resolution in a 22-11 vote after 14 hours of debate, which went through the night.

Opposition lawmakers accused the premier, Ewart F. Brown, of “autocratic” behavior for agreeing in secret with United States authorities to accept the former prisoners, ethnic Uighurs originally from western China, without consulting political leaders in Bermuda or the British government.

Kim Swan, leader of the opposition United Bermuda Party, told fellow lawmakers that the resolution was aimed not at the government but at Mr. Brown, for causing an “international debacle.”

Mr. Brown said that he had accepted the Uighurs on humanitarian grounds, and that he believed that the move improved relations with the United States by helping to resolve a diplomatic headache.

American authorities had determined that the Uighurs were not terrorists and ordered their release, but they could not be sent back to China, where they might have faced persecution for their separatist beliefs. Other countries refused to accept them.

Thursday, June 18, 2009

Video on Gitmo Uyghurs from Congressmen

Rohrabacher & Delahunt Call For Hearings On Detainees

US congressman flying to Island to meet Uighurs

US congressman flying to Island to meet Uighurs

By Amanda Dale

The Chairman of the US House of Representatives Subcommittee on International Organisations, Human Rights and Oversight is expected to meet the four Uighurs this weekend.

Congressman Bill Delahunt is to travel to Bermuda to meet the former Guantanamo detainees, to learn more about their "apprehension and detention", according to his Chief of Staff.

The Democrat is currently engaged in a series of hearings into how 22 Uighurs were arrested in late 2001 on suspicion of terrorist links to Al Qaeda.

Chief of Staff Mark Forest said Congressman Delahunt and Subcommittee ranking member Dana Rohrabacher have previously tried to interview the men at Camp X-Ray, without success.

He told The Royal Gazette: "Mr. Delahunt and Mr. Rohrabacher want to get their testimony and have made several attempts in the past to interview them but were denied permission to do so.

"The Bush Administration refused them on at least a couple of occasions, but this is a Human Rights Oversight Subcommittee so obviously they should be given the right to speak to these people.

"In the past we were concerned the Chinese Government had access to them (at Guantanamo).

"A lot of the information about the so-called threat from these men came from the Chinese Government fear-mongering and we've been rubberstamping that.

"The Congressman is interested in learning more about their apprehension and detention, so our intention is to speak with them.

"Apparently there were bounties that were paid and the people who allegedly turned them in were paid handsomely. It's an amazing story and a very sad chapter in terms of American history."

The Premier's Press Secretary Glenn Jones said in a statement last night that Congressman Delahunt is to visit the Island tomorrow, to meet the Chinese Muslims plus Bermuda Government officials.

Mr. Forest said he could not confirm the Congressman's arrival but that it was anticipated to be this weekend.

"We are making plans to get out there (Bermuda) but at the moment no schedule has been finalised," he said.

He added the House Foreign Affairs Oversight Subcommittee would continue to hold hearings into the circumstances surrounding the detention of Uighurs at Guantanamo "well into the summer".

"Our hearings will continue over the next several months. We are also interested in speaking to the Uighurs released elsewhere, such as in Albania," said Mr. Forest.

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

U.S. Sold Out to Chinese in Holding Ethnic Uighurs, Lawmakers Charge

U.S. Sold Out to Chinese in Holding Ethnic Uighurs, Lawmakers Charge

WASHINGTON (CN) - Republican and Democratic representatives united Tuesday in charging that U.S. foreign policy bowed to Chinese interests when 22 Uighurs -- bought from bounty hunters -- were imprisoned at Guantanamo Bay, compounding the misery of an ethnic group persecuted by the Chinese in their homeland. "Have we drifted so far away from our principles?" asked a House member.
Members of the House Subcommittee on International Organizations, Human Rights and Oversight accused the George W. Bush administration of designating a terrorist group without knowing enough information about the organization, and said it had simply accepted Chinese intelligence as fact.
"Not only is this about 22 individuals," Massachusetts Democrat Bill Delahunt said. "It's about the very process we utilize in making far reaching decisions."
"Have we drifted so far away from our principles?" asked California Republican Rep. Dana Rohrabacher, when we "do the bidding of the communist Chinese party by attacking people who are protesting Beijing's repressive rule."
The designation, which they said was made to please China into buying more US treasuries, resulted in the capture of non-terrorist Uighurs, and their long detention in Guantanamo Bay Prison.
The 22 Uighurs bought from bounty hunters for $5,000 each by the United States have cost the nation much more in a legal headache and in national image, provoking questions over how the United States determines who is a terrorist.
After the Bush administration determined the Uighurs were not terrorists, they were ordered released. But returning them to China is out of the question.
"They would likely face persecution, torture, or execution," Kan said. Delahunt agreed that their "return to China would be certain torture."
At the same time, Republicans have fought against moves to settle them in the United States. Some members of the Republican Party are lumping Uighurs in with terrorists "much to my dismay," Rohrabacher said.
The United States has since turned to other countries to take the Uighurs. So far, Albania and Bermuda have taken some in, but the United States is still left with 17 who have been imprisoned for nearly seven years.
Dru Gladney, from Pomona College, described the Uighurs as a largely Muslim separatist group living in northwestern China. The 10 million strong agriculturalist population has been persecuted by the Chinese government, which has designated many of them as terrorists.
Chinese authorities claim the Uighurs are members of a terrorist organization, the East Turkistan Islamic Movement, and continue to arrest them. But most of the arrests, said Sean Roberts, a professor at George Washington University, are for political dissent, not for acts of violence.
He spoke to the legislators from Kosovo, his face transmitted onto two giant television screens.
In fact, the designation of ETIM as a terrorist organization is now under scrutiny, as are its ties to the Uighurs.
At the request of the Chinese, the United States designated the ETIM as a terrorist group in 2002.
Delahunt asked how the United States could possibly know enough about the group to make such a decision. The United States military, he said, didn't know of ETIM until 2001. Less than a year later, the nation designated it as a terrorist group.
"We don't even know what ETIM really is," he said. "We're making it up. That's what everybody else is thinking."
Delahunt further discredited the groups designation by added that media reports he's read claim the organization has only one AK-47.
Shirley Kan of the Congressional Research Service, defended the group's designation, stating that the organization had received money from Al Qaeda.
Delahunt dismissed this. "Up until recently, the former vice president continued to maintain that there was a link between Al Qaeda and Saddam Hussein," he said.
He suggested that the committee hold a classified briefing to determine the relationship between the organization and Al Qaeda, but immediately rejected the idea as useless. "I can remember weapons of mass destruction and mushroom clouds," he said, referring to the misleading briefings before the war in Iraq.
Delahunt said the perceived connection between the Uighurs and the terrorist organization was the "hook" that kept them incarcerated for almost seven years.
But, even if the ETIM were a properly designated terrorist organization, members of the committee and the panel agreed that the Uighurs detained by the United States had no association with it.
Roberts from George Washington University, who lived with the Uighurs during much of the 1990s, said he never heard of the terrorist group until it was placed on the terrorism list in 2002, and called the classification of Uighurs as terrorists a "misnomer" at best, and a "calculated misrepresentation" by the Chinese government at worst.
There is "very little evidence to support the claim that the people in question are terrorists," he said.
The Uighurs collected from bounty hunters in Afghanistan are reported to have fled to Afghanistan to organize against the Chinese government, but Roberts from George Washington University said the group has remained small.
It is "proper for us to surmise that our government was just spoon fed information," Rohrabacher said, calling the designation a "pathetic attempt" to please the Chinese. "Now our leaders have to beg the Chinese to buy our treasuries."
Rohrabacher said the Uighurs do not fulfill the role of terrorists because their violence is only directed at government officials, not innocent civilians. He likened them to American revolutionaries and the Tibetans. "We should never be on the side of the oppressor."
Before the hearing ended, Delahunt proposed holding a hearing on the vacation island of Bermuda to question the Uighurs in person. The legislators agreed promptly and unanimously to that proposal.

Lawmakers Weigh Uighur Hearing in Bermuda

Lawmakers Weigh Uighur Hearing in Bermuda

Rep. Bill Delahunt and Rep. Dana Rohrabacher are trying to set up a congressional hearing on the resort island of Bermuda, so that the former Guantanamo Bay detainees known as the Uighurs, who just moved there, can testify.

By Judson Berger

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Former Guantanamo detainee Khelil Mamut, right, talks with a former Bermudan military official assigned to help him adjust to life in Bermuda. (AP Photo)

Former Guantanamo detainee Khelil Mamut, right, talks with a former Bermudan military official assigned to help him adjust to life in Bermuda. (AP Photo)
Also read these stories:
Fired IG Calls White House Explanation 'Baseless,' Says He's Being Targeted
the problem that won't go away, fired ig calls white house explanation 'baseless ' says he's being targeted, exclusive exig calls his firing 'baseless', politics, read more
4251 visitors also liked this.
Sources Say 'Extortion' Threat Was Behind GOP Senator's Admission of Affair With Staff Member
was cheating senator blackmailed?, senator, sources cheating senator blackmailed, 'extortion' behind affair disclosure?, what happened didn't stay in vegas
1730 visitors also liked this.
powered by Baynote

The next time Rep. Bill Delahunt's subcommittee holds a hearing, it might just be lit by tiki torches.

Delahunt, D-Mass., and Rep. Dana Rohrabacher, R-Calif., chairman and ranking member of the House Foreign Affairs Subcommittee on International Organizations, Human Rights and Oversight, respectively, are trying to set up a congressional hearing on the resort island of Bermuda where four former Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, detainees known can have a chance to testify and tell their side of the story.

Delahunt has tried before to draw attention to the plight of the Uighurs, who are Chinese Muslims, who just moved to Bermuda from the prison facility.

Though it's rare for Congress to hold a hearing off U.S. soil -- Bermuda is a British territory -- a Rohrabacher aide noted that under the terms of their transfer the former prisoners cannot travel stateside without special permission. So it's Bermuda or bust.

"I think this is still kind of in the works," Rohrabacher spokeswoman Tara Setmayer said, adding that Rohrabacher would support the hearing "100 percent."

This would be the latest in a series of subcommittee hearings on the Uighurs. Last week, Delahunt led a hearing titled, "The Uighurs: A History of Persecution." In a hearing Tuesday, Delahunt explored the nature of the Uighur resistance to the communist Chinese government and the extent of the threat the Uighurs posed.

Delahunt raised questions about whether the U.S. government relied too heavily on Chinese intelligence in viewing the Uighurs as a threat. A Delahunt aide said Chinese intervention in the Uighurs' detention would be one issue to explore at a Bermuda-based hearing.

Setmayer said other committee members may focus on their treatment at Guantanamo and the legality of their incarceration after they were cleared by the U.S. government.

Plus the former detainees could have a chance to answer allegations about terrorism ties. Through a translator, the four men told FOX News last week that didn't know anything about Al Qaeda and just wanted to live in peace.

Rohrabacher's aide deflected any charges that her boss -- who represents the 46th District in southern California that includes Huntington Beach, Costa Mesa and Long Beach -- or anyone else is just trying to score a free trip to the beach.

"Given the fact that Congressman Rohrabacher represents one of the most beautiful coastal districts in southern California, I don't think he needs an excuse to go to the beach," she said.

It's unclear whether the hearing, if held at all, would include members of the full House Foreign Affairs Committee or just the smaller subcommittee.

The Uighurs have turned into a peculiar kind of celebrity since some of them were finally transferred out of their Cuba detention camp.

The group was originally picked up while receiving weapons training in Afghanistan in order to fight the Chinese, officials said. Since then, the U.S. government has struggled with how to treat them and where to send them. They were removed from the enemy combatant list but congressional lawmakers and the public did not want them released in the United States.

The Obama administration made progress this month, announcing that it would divvy up the 17 remaining Uighurs between Bermuda, where four of them moved last week, and the South Pacific island of Palau.

Setmayer joked that it might be more difficult to pull off a hearing in Palau.

House subcommittee questions Uighur terrorist classification

House subcommittee questions Uighur terrorist classification
Christian Ehret at 2:22 PM ET

Photo source or description
[JURIST] A US House of Representatives [official webpage] subcommittee questioned why a group of Chinese Muslims known as Uighurs [JURIST news archive] is classified as a terrorist organization during a hearing [materials] Tuesday. The House Committee on Foreign Affairs Subcommittee on International Organizations, Human Rights and Oversight [official website] heard testimony on why the East Turkestan Islamic Movement (ETIM) [CFR backgrounder] militant group, which has been blamed for 162 deaths, has been classified as a terrorist organization since 2002. Criticizing US authorities for overly relying on questionable Chinese intelligence in their classification, Representative Bill Delahunt (D-MA) [official website] accused China of "conflat[ing] peaceful, civil disobedience and dissent with violent terrorist activity" on behalf of the Uighurs. China maintains that the Uighurs held at Guantanamo Bay [JURIST news archive] belong to the ETIM, an accusation that is disputed by the Uighur detainees and US authorities. Delahunt maintained that returning the Uighurs to China would be a "one way ticket to the death penalty" and addressed China's classification of the group:

the communist Chinese government has used the war on terror as a means to avoid criticism as they broomly persecuted and repressed the Uighur minority.

The charge that the Uighurs at Guantanamo were terrorists, were predicated on an unsubstantiated claim that they were somehow affiliated with this group.

Delahunt referred to a House resolution [HR 497 text] from the 110th Congress that called for China to stop the religious suppression directed against the Uighur people, saying that China "manipulated the strategic objectives of the international war on terror to increase their culture, linguistic and religious suppression of the Muslim population residing in the Uighur autonomous region."

Last week, four of the Uighurs being held at Guantanamo Bay were transferred to Bermuda [JURIST report]. Thirteen remain at the detention facility, although they have been cleared of wrongdoing. The Uighurs' release was ordered [opinion and order, PDF; JURIST report] by a US district court in October, but that decision was overturned [opinion, PDF; JURIST report] in February by the US Court of Appeals for the DC Circuit [official website]. They have appealed [JURIST report] to the US Supreme Court [official website]. If the remaining Uighurs are transferred before the Court decides to hear their case, it will likely be dismissed as moot. Last week, Palau President Johnson Toribiong said that his government had reached an agreement with the US [JURIST report] to accept all 17 Uighur detainees. US officials said later that no final agreement had been reached. Also last week, Torigiong said that the offer was motivated by human rights concerns [JURIST report] and not by the Chinese government's reaction. Although the Chinese government has demanded the repatriation of the Uighurs, the US has rejected such requests [JURIST report], citing fear of torture upon their return.

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Resettling Uyghurs no easy task

Resettling Uyghurs no easy task
By Ian Williams

The plight of the Uyghurs has had more publicity than ever before because of the United States Congress's reticence and Beijing's bluster. The 22 prisoners have served their people well, if unwillingly and unwittingly, although resettling these victims of Guantanamo has not brought out the best in people or countries elsewhere.

Almost forgotten in the recent acceptance of some of them by Bermuda
and Palau is Albania stepping up to the plate to take five of them four years ago. Albania, the only Muslim-majority United Nations member in Europe, was doubtless sentimentally inclined to accept their co-religionists from the other end of the Turkic sphere of influence, but one rather suspects that the George W Bush administration offered cash and or big diplomatic favors in

return. Under Enver Hoxha, Albania had cocked a snook at China when it was its only friend in the world. It could well afford to risk the displeasure that Beijing is displaying so prominently.

In the aftermath of September 11, 2001, when the UN Security Council was setting up its anti-terrorism committee, China's ambassador kept trying to add "and secessionist activities", to its remit. The other members were politely overlooking him until he persisted and demanded to know why he was being ignored and the British ambassador, looking over his shoulder at Welsh and Scottish nationalist parties back home, told him firmly, "Because secessionist activities are not against international law, or the domestic law of many members."

Certainly nothing could have provoked Uyghur secessionist sentiment more than Beijing's chauvinistic policies there, insouciantly swamping the allegedly autonomous region with Hans and marginalizing the Turkic Uyghurs. Even their close brethren in Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan are not going to risk relations with China over their treatment, although many ordinary citizens are unhappy about it.

China has been demanding their repatriation, not least since they cannot tell the difference between secessionism and terrorism. Perhaps the only way the US comes out of this with a modicum of respectability is that, after kidnapping and incarcerating these Uyghur refugees, it has refused to hand them over to Beijing. Otherwise, it is shameful on grounds of equity and humanity that the US has not offered asylum to its victims, who have been cleared of any crime. In its traditional invertebrate mode, Congress, having done nothing to stop their illegal incarceration, now refuses to allow President Barack Obama to resettle them in the US.

That marginally excuses all the other nations who have refused to accept them. After all, how do you explain to your own voters that these people are harmless victims if the last country to victimize them won't allow them in?

Ironically, both countries that had the courage of their humanitarian convictions and a weather eye to as yet unspecified profit, Palau and Bermuda, are studies in how far autonomy will go.

Bermuda is still technically a British territory and London is responsible for its security and foreign policy. The island government, for unspecified returns but almost certainly more substantial than mere gratitude, is treating this as an immigration issue, although London wants to talk. It is likely that British umbrage is more with Washington's insouciance to its titular sovereignty over Bermuda than with the island government.

However, if New Labour wanted to abase itself to China by making a constitutional issue of it, it would meet outrage at home. While there may not be much enthusiasm for taking in Washington's dirty laundry, the civil rights issues would emerge noisily. In Bermuda, heavy-handed interference from London could strengthen the independence movement and possibly provoke prompt recognition of Taiwan.

Palau battled Washington for decades about the American insistence that it remove its nuclear-free clauses from its constitution before the US would accept the Compact of Free Association that eventually allowed its membership of the United Nations. By that compact, the US is totally in charge of the archipelago's defense, and effectively pays its budget. Indeed, in the Trusteeship Council at the time, yet another British diplomat mused on the record about whether Palau and its sister former UN Strategic Trust territories met traditional definitions of sovereignty. Ever-obliging Palau was one of the first of the "willing" to join the coalition of the same, although no outrigger canoes were seen paddling up the Gulf as a result. It also helps that Palau recognizes Taiwan, so Beijing's pressure would be even more ineffectual.

Indeed, one wonders why Taiwan did not step up to the plate, but then the Kuomintang has only recently accepted Mongolian sovereignty, let alone Xinjiang's. It would have been interesting if the Democratic Progressive Party, itself a secessionist organization, were still in power.

Ian Williams is the author of Deserter: Bush's War on Military Families, Veterans and His Past, Nation Books, New York.

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

A Home for the Uighurs (Washington Post Editorial)

A Home for the Uighurs
America's allies help Muslims from China emerge from an injust imprisonment. Why isn't the U.S. stepping up?

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

NEWS THAT some of the 17 Uighur Muslims wrongly detained at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, since 2002 have found homes brings both relief and disappointment.

The men were cleared for release by the Bush administration years ago; the federal courts that reviewed their cases concluded that there was no evidence to justify their imprisonment in the first place. Yet they languished behind bars because the United States could not return them to their native China for fear they would be tortured, or worse. Some 100 countries declined U.S. requests to take the Uighurs, in part because of Chinese threats of retaliation. U.S. lawmakers railed against the possibility of allowing the detainees into the United States, claiming that they were dangerous terrorists despite the assessments of a Republican and a Democratic president, military officers and an independent judiciary.

Enter Bermuda and Palau. On June 11, the Justice Department announced that Bermuda would accept four of the Uighurs. The administration has also been negotiating with Palau, an island nation of some 20,000 people located east of the Philippines. The president of Palau said in a statement that his country is willing to take some of the men.

The Uighurs who are headed to Bermuda and Palau will finally get a chance to start their lives again -- albeit in foreign surroundings and without the comfort of family or an extended community that speaks their language and shares their culture. But it is disappointing that the United States has had to beseech its allies to correct an injustice wholly of its own creation. It is maddening that U.S. administrations and lawmakers of both parties did not act with cooler heads and good faith to welcome at least some of these men into this country -- especially when well-established and reputable Uighur organizations and communities offered to provide food and shelter and help to get the men established.

If U.S. lawmakers balk at accepting the Uighurs -- who never viewed the United States as an enemy -- will they consider offering safe harbor to others who have been cleared for release and who will not be accepted elsewhere? Yesterday, the European Union said it would help the United States "turn a page" on Guantanamo; several E.U. members are considering admitting detainees who have been cleared for release. While encouraging, how can the United States continue to ask something of allies that it is unwilling or unable to do itself?

Monday, June 15, 2009

Uyghur men grateful to Bermuda for their new life

Uyghur men grateful to Bermuda for their new life
By UAA Administrator

The four Uyghur men who recently arrived in Bermuda after spending more than seven years in the Guantanamo Bay detention center. From left to right: Helil Mamut (Abdul Nasser), Ablikim Turahun (Huzaifa Parhat), Salahidin Abdulahat (Abdul Semet), and Abdulla Abduqadir (Jalal Jalalidin). (Photo courtesy of Rushan Abbas)

Sunday, June 14, 2009

Out of Guantánamo, Uighurs Bask in Bermuda

Out of Guantánamo, Uighurs Bask in Bermuda
Justin Maxon/The New York Times

AN OCEAN IDYLL Salahidin Abdulahat, left, and Khaleel Mamut swam in the Atlantic Ocean on Sunday in Bermuda. The Uighur Muslims, recently freed from captivity at Guantánamo Bay, have been resettled in Bermuda. Mr. Abdulahat said his first-ever ocean swim was "the happiest day of my life."

Published: June 14, 2009

ST. GEORGE, Bermuda — Almost exactly seven years after arriving at Guantánamo in chains as accused enemy combatants, and four days after their surprise predawn flight to Bermuda, four Uighur Muslim men basked in their new-found freedom here, grateful for the handshakes many residents had offered and marveling at the serene beauty of this tidy, postcard island.
Skip to next paragraph
Enlarge This Image
Justin Maxon/The New York Times

ONCE DETAINEES, NOW TOURISTS The four freed Uighurs toured the historic district of St. George in Bermuda on Sunday. They have been greeted with hospitality by the island’s residents.

In newly purchased polo shirts and chinos, the four husky men, members of a restive ethnic minority from western China, might blend in except for their scruffy beards. Smelling hibiscus flowers, luxuriating in the freedom to drift through scenic streets and harbors, they expressed wonder at their good fortune in landing here after a captivity that included more than a year in solitary confinement.

“I went swimming in the ocean for the first time ever yesterday, and it was the happiest day of my life,” said Salahidin Abdulahat, 32.

Over a lunch of fish and chips on Sunday, they praised Bermuda for showing courage in the face of potential Chinese pressures that, in their view, powerful European countries had failed to muster.

The men were among a larger group of Uighurs (pronounced WEE-gers) who had fled what they called Chinese persecution of Muslims in western China and spent part of 2001 in a Uighur camp in Afghanistan. They fled, apparently unarmed, when the Americans bombed the camp, and were later turned in to the authorities by Pakistani villagers in return for an American bounty.

The four brought here, like 13 other Uighurs still at Guantánamo but expected to depart soon to other destinations, had been cleared by American officials and courts of taking up arms against the United States or ties to global terrorism.

But proposals to resettle them in the United States caused a political furor that the Obama administration did not want to aggravate. On Sunday, these four expressed a surprising lack of bitterness toward the United States, saying — as they had during interrogations years ago in Guantánamo — that they had never been anti-American and just wanted to get on with their lives.

“Before we were asking, ‘Why are the Americans doing this to us?’ ” said Mr. Abdulahat. Now, he said, with others nodding in agreement, “We have ended up in such a beautiful place. We don’t want to look back, and we don’t have any hard feelings toward the United States.”

While two of the men speak some English, all spoke in Uighur, aided by a Uighur woman who has translated at Guantánamo for them and for their lawyers.

Their resettlement on this British colony, known for yachting and pastel buildings, is a small step toward the administration’s aim of closing down Guantánamo by January. It has created a political tempest for the premier of Bermuda, who some say acted in an autocratic manner, and angered Britain’s Foreign Office, which is in charge of foreign policy and says it was not properly consulted.

But most objections voiced here concerned the secrecy of the deal rather than fears of having former terrorist suspects at large, as some have expressed in the United States. No quid pro quo has become public.

While some less affluent residents said they felt it was unfair to offer jobs and citizenship to men the United States itself would not take, many others shrugged and expressed pride at Bermudan hospitality. As the men venture from the seaside cottage where they temporarily live until they get jobs and figure out next steps, people often come up to shake their hands and wish them well, and the men said they were deeply touched.

Their homeland of Xinjiang, a largely Muslim region in western China where many residents chafe under Chinese rule, is landlocked, and many of the Uighur detainees saw an ocean — still a distant, mysterious presence — for the first time ever through fences at Guantánamo.

Now they can play in the waters. Khaleel Mamut, 31, said he went fishing on a boat on Saturday and caught his first fish ever. “I was so excited,” he said. “You just drop the hook in the water and you get a fish.” Hearing that fishing did not always bring such quick results, one of the other men quipped that perhaps the fish were joining in Bermuda’s welcome.

They have been promised work visas and, in perhaps a year or so, possible citizenship, their American lawyers said. That would give them passports and a right to travel.

Out of Guantánamo, Uighurs Bask in Bermuda

* Sign in to Recommend
* Sign In to E-Mail
* Print
* Single Page
* Reprints
* ShareClose
o Linkedin
o Digg
o Facebook
o Mixx
o MySpace
o Yahoo! Buzz
o Permalink

Article Tools Sponsored By
Published: June 14, 2009

(Page 2 of 2)

“The intent is that they shall become Bermudians,” said Maj. Gen. Glenn W. Brangman, a retired officer appointed by the government to help the new arrivals and who greets them with hearty bear hugs.

Under the current arrangement, Bermuda will not allow the men to visit the United States. It is unclear whether they will ever be able to do so even if they gain Bermuda citizenship.

The four said they wanted nothing to do with their ostensible home country of China, which has demanded their repatriation and would almost certainly imprison them.

During interrogations at Guantánamo, these four and other Uighurs said they had ended up in Afghanistan after fleeing Chinese persecution and had wanted to work for the “liberation” of the Uighur people — a position regarded as treason in China.

Many said they had been shown how to fire a Kalashnikov rifle at the Uighur encampment, but had no real training, knew nothing of Al Qaeda, and did not fight the Americans or consider them the enemy.

These four were among a larger group that hid in mountain caves near Jalalabad after their camp was bombed by American forces in late 2001. Hungry, frightened and unarmed, they made their way to Pakistan, where villagers turned them in to the authorities in exchange for American reward money.

Years into their captivity, American officials concluded that the men should not be considered enemy combatants. Last October, a court ordered their release, but it was delayed by the inability to find a host country and a court reversal that prevented their move to American soil.

In 2007, five Uighurs were sent to Albania. Negotiations are under way to send all or most of the remaining 13 to the Pacific island of Palau.

Bermudans awoke Thursday to learn that the four had been flown in before dawn, with Premier Ewart F. Brown, who had negotiated in secret with the Americans, calling this “the right thing to do.” Opponents, who already regarded Mr. Brown as autocratic, called for a vote of no confidence, which could occur in weeks.

At the same time, the British governor here expressed his displeasure at being kept in the dark, and the British Foreign Office complained to Washington.

Mr. Brown’s fate may be uncertain, but when confronted with the four men in the flesh, many residents seem to warm to them.

Washington has walked a thin line in the handling of the Uighurs. It sought China’s support in antiterrorism efforts after the Sept. 11 attacks, branded an obscure Uighur independence group as terrorist and in 2002 allowed Chinese officials into Guantánamo to interrogate Uighur captives. The four men released here said that interrogation was a low point of their Guantánamo incarceration, with Chinese officials questioning them for long hours without food and threatening them and their families.

From the men’s own statements, it is clear that their presence in Afghanistan was linked to their animosity toward China. Whatever they might have wished in 2001, there is no evidence they sought to become part of a global jihad.

Now, over Chinese objections, the men are being released to third countries.

All that seems distant, the men said Sunday as they pondered, with some pleasure, the unexpected new turn in their lives.

Guantánamo four stir up tropical storm in Bermuda

Guantánamo four stir up tropical storm in Bermuda
Grinning broadly and protesting their desire only for the "peaceful life", four Chinese Muslims released from Guantanamo Bay enjoyed the delights of their new home over the weekend.

By Tom Leonard in Hamilton, Bermuda
Published: 7:00AM BST 14 Jun 2009

Guantanamo Uighurs enjoy sun, sea and sand in new home of Bermuda

That meant fried Bermudan rock fish with banana and almonds, and a monumental row about their arrival in Britain's oldest colony.

Their celebratory meal, joined by The Sunday Telegraph after this newspaper tracked them down to their hideaway in a guesthouse in a remote corner of Bermuda, was washed down with water and a heavy dose of relief and gratitude toward their hosts.

Related Articles

Miliband anger at Bermuda's US Guantánamo deal
Two Guantánamo detainees sent to Iraq, Chad
British anger over Bermuda decision to take Guantanamo detainees
Cooking with children
Ireland: lose yourself in the wilds of Mayo
MI5 agents 'tried to recruit Guant?namo detainees'

Clearly relishing each mouthful after years of bland and solitary prison meals, Abdulla Abdulqadir, 30, said: "Eating together like this, gathered around a table together – that's what freedom is all about for me."

"In Guantanamo Bay, there's no friendliness," added Salahidin Abulahad, 32. "The people here have been so friendly, they come and hug us. Bermuda had the courage to step and do this – it's a small place but it has a big heart. This is where we want to stay."

But by no means everyone is delighted by their presence. Ewart Brown, Bermuda's premier, swiftly provoked a row with his colonial masters on Thursday when he abruptly announced that the small but wealthy British overseas territory had taken in four of the 17 Uighurs still held in the controversial US detention facility.

An angry Britain, which is responsible for Bermuda's security and foreign policy, complained that it should have been consulted and put the foursome's future on hold until it has conducted its own security checks.

Dr Brown's supposed humanitarian gesture prompted an even more furious reaction on Bermuda where radio talkshows have been flooded with angry callers fretting about the arrival of "blood-crazed jihadists" on a cosy island better known for talcum powder beaches and international offshore finance houses.

On Friday, opposition MPs tabled a motion of no confidence as the embattled leader admitted that the offer to help out with Barack Obama's Guantanamo Bay clean-out was linked to discussions on the US clampdown on tax havens.

David Miliband telephoned Hillary Clinton, the US secretary of state, to express Britain's disappointment as a state department official admitted the UK was angry.

Given China's insistence they are terrorists, the four Uighurs conceded that they may never see their families again, including Mr Turahun who has an 11-year-old son.

Mr Mamut said he had spoken to his parents. "They told me: 'My boy, my son, congratulations on your freedom," he said.

But even this sobering thought has not yet got in the way of the four men's obvious joy at swapping seven years in a cramped cell for a new life on one of the world's more beautiful and affluent islands.

They have been to the beach, although not yet for a swim, and went on a longer walk through the Bermudan countryside. "A horse appeared – they hadn't seen a horse in seven years," said Sabin Willett, their American lawyer. "It was a beautiful moment, you could tell they were moved just to see this horse."

They also found time for a brief kick of a football after noticing a group of teenagers playing in a nearby field.

The US government long ago decided that the Uighur detainees did not pose a terrorist threat. The four – who also include Helil Mamut, 31, and Ablikin Turahun, 38 – insisted they were innocent victims of the US war on terror and the "brutal dictatorship" of China.

They were captured by bounty hunters in Pakistan where they went after fleeing US bombing in Afghanistan. They had fled to Afghanistan to escape Chinese "oppression", they had been held at the controversial detention centre in Cuba since 2002.

They insisted they had never even heard of al-Qaeda until they arrived at the prison and denied allegations that they received military training in a terrorist camp at Tora Bora.

The four, whom China say are separatists fighting for independence for the remote western region of Xinjiang, said they fled to Pakistan and Afghanistan simply because they were easy to get into without papers.

"Because we had no visas, we were living in an abandoned house in a little Afghan village, it wasn't a training camp," said Mr Abdulahad. They learn how to use AK47 assault rifles because everyone carried them and they were "curious", not because they had formal military instruction, he said.

They were aware of what was being said about them by some of their new hosts. "What did you think when you saw us? Do we look like that kind of people? Are you nervous around us?" said Mr Abdulqadir.

Although they have no love for the Chinese – Mr Abdulahad said his worst ordeal at Guantanamo was when Chinese interrogators were once allowed to question him almost continually for a day and a half – the men said they had "nothing against the Americans".

"What's past is past. The administration made a mistake as we were innocent. It's really sad that seven years of my life were lost but we don't hold any grudges. We just want to concentrate on the future," he said.

The men have been renewing their acquaintance with the basic comforts of life outside prison, noting that since arriving they had glimpsed their first horse, first game of football and first fish – during a beach walk – that they had seen for seven years.

They are currently staying in a $200 a night guesthouse while the authorities arrange for them to have travel and work papers. Their expenses are being paid by the Bermudan authorities who are being recompensed by the US government.

Two of them speak some English and local people say they will have no trouble finding work on an island with neglible unemployment.

They were vague about what skills they had to offer and said they had not yet got around to considering their options.

If they were clearly reluctant to discuss too much their time in Guantanamo, they were keen to bring up the plight of those they left behind.

"Our 13 brothers still in Guantanamo are just the same as us," said Mr Abdulqadir. "People need to understand that."

The Guantanamo refugees no one wants

The Guantanamo refugees no one wants

* Donald Rothwell
* June 15, 2009

The Chinese Uighurs are caught in a legal tangle not of their making.

THAT the Atlantic island territory of Bermuda has agreed to resettle four of the 17 Chinese nationals of Uighur ethnic origin who had been held at Guantanamo Bay, does little to diminish some of the intractable legal issues US policy towards detainees has created. This dilemma for the Obama Administration has become all the more urgent in light of its commitment to shut Guantanamo by January 2010.

Notwithstanding multiple diplomatic overtures, other than Bermuda, only Albania's 2006 decision to take five and the tiny Pacific archipelago of Palau's recent decision to assist have been the only other offers to date. Australia has now been approached for the third time in just over a year to consider taking up to 10 of the Uighurs.

The Federal Government has yet to respond with Foreign Minister Stephen Smith indicating the request will be assessed on a "case-by-case" basis. Germany, which has a Uighur community in Munich, has also been considering a similar US request.

The Guantanamo Uighurs, ethnically Turkic Muslims who populate the north-west of China, have been detained since early 2002. They had left China for Afghanistan in 2001 fleeing persecution from Chinese officials, only to have their village bombed in mid-October 2001 by allied forces during Operation Enduring Freedom. They then travelled to Pakistan where they were arrested by local security forces and turned over to the US military. There has never been any credible evidence that the Uighurs actively supported either the Taliban or al-Qaeda, and while the US maintains that in 2001 they attended a militant training camp in Afghanistan, the evidence for this claim appears flimsy.

It is therefore not surprising that once the US began reviewing the basis for ongoing detention of Guantanamo detainees, the Uighurs were among the first who were cleared for release. However, unlike many of the detainees that were allowed to leave Guantanamo from 2004 onwards, the Chinese nationality of the Uighurs has been a significant issue.

The Uighurs have been in ongoing conflict with Chinese authorities over the status of their region and have faced religious persecution and efforts to integrate them into the wider Chinese population.

Following demonstrations in February 1997, Amnesty International reported examples of serious human rights abuses against the Uighur people — including arbitrary detention, unfair trials, torture, and executions.

The Chinese Government has used the term "separatism" to refer to the activities of the Uighurs, and has sought — on suspicion of committing terrorist acts — the return of some Uighurs who live outside of China.

Further reports that some Uighurs were tortured and executed on their return to China after the 9/11 terrorist attacks caused the US to become wary of repatriating the Guantanamo Uighurs to China and to this day it has refused to accede to any Chinese requests of this kind.

This has placed the US in a particular quandary as effectively the Guantanamo Uighurs have been recognised as refugees entitled to asylum because they fear persecution and are entitled to protection under the Refugees Convention. Any handing over of the Uighurs to China would be a clear violation of international law.

One of the issues that third countries need to consider when assessing these requests is how China may respond. Earlier this month, the Chinese Embassy in Canberra indicated to Radio Australia that they considered the "Chinese terrorist suspects" held at Guantanamo Bay to be "members of the terrorist group East Turkestan Islamic Movement" and they "should be handed over to China for proper handling according to law". While Stephen Smith responded by noting that "from my point of view, we put to one side any hypothetical view that a different or a third nation might have", the Chinese position cannot be totally irrelevant for Australia.

Part of the impasse is also due to the failure of the US to accept that it too has some responsibility towards the Uighurs. Notwithstanding successful US District Court rulings that the Uighurs should be released, both the Bush and now the Obama Administration have blocked legal efforts by the Uighurs to be released in the US. Plans were well advanced in May to relocate some of the Uighurs to Virginia, but those plans were scuttled after a Congressional backlash.

Fifty Guantanamo detainees, including the Uighurs, are now eligible for release under plans developed by the Obama Administration and the US is courting close allies to assist in their resettlement. The EU position is that assistance will only be provided once a formal EU-US agreement is reached, which provides levels of assurance as to the human rights of the former detainees, and also financial commitments towards their ongoing needs.

The US will need to make important concessions for any agreement is to be concluded; the US must accept that it has an ongoing responsibility for some Guantanamo detainees who were wrongfully held and that it is prepared to resettle some, including the Uighurs, in the US.

Australia would be well within its rights to make similar demands.

However, until the US is prepared to acknowledge that "charity begins at home" then the future for the Guantanamo Uighurs will remain deadlocked.

Donald Rothwell is professor of international law at the ANU college of law.

From hell to paradise for ex-Gitmo detainees

From hell to paradise for ex-Gitmo detainees
Uighurs Salahidin Abdulahat, 32, left, and Khelil Mamut, 31, go fishing in Bermuda, where they're living after almost eight years in Guantanamo Bay.
Print Print

Four ethnic Uighurs adjusting to Bermuda, and life on outside
Jun 13, 2009 11:34 PM
Michelle Shephard

HAMILTON, Bermuda – After almost eight years of captivity, each step of Khelil Mamut's freedom is a little overwhelming.

The ocean, which he could hear only on windy days when the waves crashed beyond Guantanamo's razor wire rimmed fence, is now something he can wade into.

People call him by his name, not 278, his internee serial number.

Then there was the horse he saw while walking one of the island trails on Thursday, the day he and three other Chinese citizens of the Muslim Uighur minority arrived in Bermuda. The animal made him stop suddenly, just to stare.

"How can I express it," he said yesterday, describing the new tropical home where he now lives with the three other former Guantanamo detainees. "It is so great, so beautiful."

"This may be a small island," added Abdullah Abdulqadir. "But it has a big heart."

The men spent yesterday with the Toronto Star, as they adjusted to life on the outside and reflected on a week that one local paper headlined: "From prison to paradise."

Despite the backlash to their move, which has all Bermudians talking, they seemed insulated in their oceanside pink cottage, enjoying a fish lunch, a sunset swim and fielding the occasional media call.

They broke their composure only when a local imam visited them, embracing each fiercely.

The U.S. government is footing the bill for their food and accommodation until they can find work, which likely won't be a problem since local companies have reportedly already made six offers.

Inside their three-bedroom apartment, where the carpet, curtain and walls match the pastel exterior, the men have managed to form a makeshift family.

American translator Rushan Abbas, who alternated yesterday between typing emails to their U.S. lawyers and kneading dough for a traditional Uighur dinner, joked that despite only being a few years older she considered the men her children.

Abbas worked for U.S. interrogators translating with Uighur detainees when she first started at Guantanamo in 2002.

Then she "switched sides," she said, and started working for defence attorneys. She came here for a few days to make the transition smoother since Abdulqadir and Mamut know only limited English, and the other two men, Salahidin Abdulahat and Ablikim Turahun, don't understand at all.

The men also have the assistance of a retired Bermudian army major, Glenn Brangman, who now works with the government. With his booming voice and hibiscus-patterned surf shorts, Brangman has become their energetic guide.

Two weeks ago the scene for these men in Camp Iguana – the U.S. military's name for the prison where they were detained in Guantanamo – couldn't have been more different. On June 1, Abdulqadir approached a small group of journalists during a rare unscripted moment in a prison where the message is tightly controlled.

"Who's in charge?" Abdulqadir asked, as reporters, including one from the Star, stood mute on the other side of the fence due to rules that forbid communication between journalists and prisoners.

Abdulqadir and another detainee then quickly displayed a sketch pad where they'd written their message in crayon, managing to pull off the detention centre's first public protest.

"We need to freedom (sic)," said one page.

Ten days later, a secret pre-dawn private flight whisked them away from Guantanamo to this tourist mecca.

There's no doubt the four men stand out in this self-governing British territory that's only 54 square kilometres – less than half the size of Guantanamo's U.S. naval base.

There's no Uighur population here and when locals are asked if there's an Asian community, most point to a Japanese resident who opened a restaurant.

Their arrival has consumed the local media and parliament. Opposition members tabled a no-confidence motion on Friday to oust Bermuda's Premier Ewart Brown, arguing that his covert deal with U.S. President Barack Obama was indicative of his "autocratic" leadership.

"We don't know who these men are," opposition minister Shawn Crockwell said in an interview with the Star.

"All of a sudden there's an association between Bermuda and terrorism. Whether or not these men are or not, there's that association."

The men yesterday said they hoped they could shake the terrorist label.

"There's absolutely no hard feelings toward the U.S.," said Abdulqadir.

"There are some people accusing us, labelling us as dangerous people, but that's not true at all."

For years, the debate over the Uighur detainees, who range in age from 30 to 38, was whether they were Guantanamo victims or men who had formed links with Al Qaeda to support their opposition to China's rule.

The men said they fled China in the summer of 2001 for neighbouring Afghanistan – the two countries share a tiny stretch of border – because they could not get passports enabling them to go elsewhere.

After the 9/11 attacks and the U.S.-led invasion of Afghanistan in October 2001, the men were caught by Pakistani services and sold to the United States for a bounty.

The Pentagon accused them of training at "Al Qaeda-linked" camps and belonging to the East Turkistan Islamic Movement (ETIM), which opposes China's oppression of Uighurs.

In September 2002, after the men had been in custody for almost a year, the ETIM was designated a terrorist organization by the U.S. State Department.

The listing itself was criticized by some who accused the United States of succumbing to China's pressure at a time when Beijing's support was sought for the upcoming war in Iraq.

During years of litigation, the D.C. courts slammed the inadequacy of the government's evidence, eventually pushing the Bush administration to concede that the Uighurs were no longer designated "enemy combatants."

This administrative reclassification, which cleared the men for release, prompted one District Court judge to quip: "The government's use of the Kafkaesque term `no longer enemy combatants' deliberately begs the question of whether these petitioners ever were enemy combatants."

Yesterday, the men said the toughest time in their captivity was when Chinese interrogators were allowed on the base in 2002.

They also talked of their year inside Camp 6, where they were kept in solitary confinement and only meals and calls of other prisoners broke the monotony of the day.

After a D.C. judge ordered them released last October, they were transferred to Camp Iguana, a separate prison of enclosed wooden huts, perched high on a rocky cliff overlooking the ocean.

But when the United States denied them refuge and no other country would accept them, they were trapped in a legal limbo until last week.

Another 13 Uighur detainees, heading for the tiny Pacific island of Palau, still remain in Guantanamo, as does Canadian Omar Khadr.

Some residents here were angry that Bermuda accepted men other Western nations refused to take, while others say the men will integrate well.

"I feel people need somewhere to go. These guys haven't done anything wrong and have been locked up," said Carol Turini, a 70-year-old cab driver who retired from a job in the immigration department eight years ago.

"Why not?"

Their American lawyer, Sabin Willet, said one of the most poignant moments for him came when they were shopping for new clothes as a local talk radio show was airing irate callers saying Bermuda was harbouring terrorists.

Hearing the radio, and then recognizing the men, the storeowner looked at them and said, "Well, I welcome you here."

Saturday, June 13, 2009

After 7 years at Gitmo, resettled Uyghurs grateful for freedom

After 7 years at Gitmo, resettled Uyghurs grateful for freedom

Story Highlights
Two Uyghurs relocated from Guantanamo spoke Friday with CNN's Don Lemon
Both denied having been terrorists, and expressed gratitude toward U.S. president
Four of the Chinese Muslims were relocated to Bermuda; 13 remain at Gitmo
Incident has had international repercussions centering on where to relocate men

updated 10:32 p.m. EDT, Fri June 12, 2009

HAMILTON, Bermuda (CNN) -- Two of four Uyghurs relocated to Bermuda after seven years of detention in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, denied Friday that they had ever been terrorists, and expressed gratitude toward President Obama for working to free them.
Salahidin Abdalahut and Kheleel Mamut were two of four Uyghurs released from Gitmo. Thirteen remain there.

Salahidin Abdalahut and Kheleel Mamut were two of four Uyghurs released from Gitmo. Thirteen remain there.

Asked what he would say to someone who accused him of being a terrorist, one of the men, Kheleel Mamut, told CNN's Don Lemon, "I am no terrorist; I have not been terrorist. I will never be terrorist. I am a peaceful person."

Speaking through an interpreter who is herself a Uyghur who said she was sympathetic toward the men, the other man -- Salahidin Abdalahut -- described the past seven years as "difficult times for me ... I feel bad that it took so long for me to be free."

The two Chinese Muslims were among four relocated from Guantanamo to Bermuda; another 13 remain in detention on the island.

He said he had traveled to Afghanistan not to attend any terrorist training camps, but because -- as a Uyghur -- he had been oppressed by the Chinese government. "We had to leave the country to look for a better life, a peaceful life, and Afghanistan is a neighboring country to our country and it's easy to go," he said. "It is difficult to obtain a visa to go to any other places, so it was really easy for us to just travel to Afghanistan."

Asked what he hoped to do next, he said, "I want to forget about the past and move on to a peaceful life in the future."

In addition to the four relocated from Guantanamo to Bermuda, another 13 Uyghurs remain in detention on the island.

The four were flown by private plane Wednesday night from Cuba to Bermuda, and were accompanied by U.S. and Bermudian representatives as well as their attorneys, according to Susan Baker Manning, part of the men's legal team.

The men, who are staying in an apartment, are free to roam about the island.

Mamut accused the Bush administration of having held them without cause, and lauded Obama for having "tried really hard to bring justice and he has been trying very hard to find other countries to resettle us and finally he freed us."
Don't Miss

* Bermuda should have 'consulted' UK, official says
* Uyghur Gitmo detainees resettle in Bermuda
* Palau to take Uighur detainees from Gitmo

He appealed to Obama to carry out his promise to shut Guantanamo Bay within a year. "I would like President Obama to honor that word and to free my 13 brothers who were left behind and all of the rest of the people who deserve to be free," Mamut said.

Asked how he had been treated in Guantanamo Bay, Mamut said, "It is a jail, so there will be difficulties in the jail that we have faced and now, since I am a free man today, I would like to forget about all that. I really don't want to think about those days."

He cited a proverb from his homeland that means, "What is done cannot be undone."

Asked if he had anything to say to anyone watching, he said, "Thank you very much for those people who helped me to gain freedom."

He said he had spoken earlier in the day with his family. "They told me, "My boy, my son, congratulations on your freedom.' "

The move has had international repercussions, including causing a rift between the United States and Britain.

A British official familiar with the agreement but not authorized to speak publicly on the matter told CNN the United States had informed London of the agreement "shortly before the deal was concluded."

A U.S. official, speaking on background, said the British feel blindsided.

Bermuda is a British "overseas territory."

The four were twice cleared for release -- once by the Bush administration and again this year, according to a Justice Department statement.

The issue of where they go is controversial because of China's opposition to the Uyghurs being sent to any country but China.

Uyghurs are a Muslim minority from the Xinjiang province of far west China. The 17 Uyghurs had left China and made their way to Afghanistan, where they settled in a camp with other Uyghurs opposed to the Chinese government, the Justice Department said in its statement.

They left Afghanistan after U.S. bombings began in the area in October 2001, and were apprehended in Pakistan, the statement said.

"According to available information, these individuals did not travel to Afghanistan with the intent to take any hostile action against the United States," the statement said.

However, China alleges that the men are part of the East Turkestan Islamic Movement -- a group the U.S. State Department considers a terrorist organization -- that operates in the Xinjiang region. East Turkestan is another name for Xinjiang.

China on Thursday urged the United States to hand over all 17 of the Uyghurs instead of sending them elsewhere.

The United States will not send Uyghur detainees cleared for release back to China out of concern that they would be tortured by Chinese authorities. China has said no returned Uyghurs would be tortured.

A senior U.S. administration official told CNN that the State Department is working on a final agreement with Palau to settle the 13 remaining Uyghur detainees.

'We'd never heard of al Qaeda'

Freedon:Abdulla Abdulqadir, Salahidin Abdulahad, Khalil Manut, and Ablikim Turahun spent more than seven years in the United States' prison at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.
Photo by Mark Tatem

Salahidin Abdulahad and Ablikim Turahun.
Photo by Mark Tatem

Abdulla Abdulqadir
Photo by Mark Tatem

'We'd never heard of al Qaeda'

By Jonathan Kent

The four Chinese Muslims released from Guantánamo Bay to come to Bermuda say they had never even heard of al Qaeda until they arrived at the US prison camp where they have been confined for the past seven years.

And in an interview with The Royal Gazette, the ethnic Uighurs said they had never seen pictures of what happened on September 11, 2001, but they did not approve of the terrorist attacks that killed about 3,000 people in the US.

The four men — Abdulla Abdulqadir, Salahidin Abdulahad, Ablikim Turahun and Khalil Mamut — spoke last night of their excitement at being free in Bermuda and that their experience since arriving at 3 a.m. on Thursday morning had been of "a small country of people with big hearts".

Bleary-eyed, weary but elated with the excitement of their liberation, the men denied ever having been terrorists and spoke of long stretches of solitary confinement in the spartan cells of Guantánamo.

Their worst moments in the camp in the US-owned enclave of Cuba, they said, had come when the Americans allowed a visit by Chinese military officials to interrogate them for two weeks. The Uighurs say they were persecuted in their homeland by the Chinese authorities and fled over the border into Afghanistan to escape. They denied ever having gone to a terrorist training camp there.

"That is a totally false accusation," said Mr. Abdulahad, speaking through an interpreter. "We were just fleeing Chinese suppression when we went to Afghanistan.

"We did not go to a military or terrorist training camp. We were in a little village and stayed in some abandoned buildings there. If you saw it you would know it's ridiculous to call this place a military training camp."

The Uighurs had their own country until it was seized by China in 1949, the men said, and they have been an oppressed minority for decades.

One example of this oppression was that a mother who had two children and who was pregnant would be subject to a forced abortion at the hands of the authorities. Abortion is against their religion. "We wanted to go to a peaceful country in Europe, but because of the difficulties with visas and passports, we had to do the next best thing, which was to cross the border into Afghanistan, which was much easier to do," Mr. Abdulahad said.

When the American bombing of Afghanistan started after 9/11, they fled into Pakistan and say they were tricked by Pakistani tribesman, who handed them over to the US military for cash. They vigorously denied that they had ever had any association with the terrorist group behind the 9/11 attacks, al Qaeda.

"We had not seen anything of the 9/11 attacks, but from what we have heard, it was a terrible tragedy that happened to the American people," Mr. Abdulahad said.

"We are very sympathetic with the families of those who lost their lives.

"We'd never heard of al Qaeda until we came to Guantánamo and heard about them from our interrogators. "From what we have heard about them, they are an extremely radical group, with totally different ideals from ours. We are a peace-loving people."

The men said for a year of their imprisonment they were held in solitary confinement for 22 hours a day in a cramped cell with no natural light, and were allowed outside for a couple of hours a day in a three-metre by five-metre "recreation area".

They believed the Americans soon realised they were not terrorists and the men said they were not tortured at the hands of the US guards. In 2002, things got worse for a short period, when Chinese officials were allowed into the camp to question them. The men's lawyer, Sabin Willett, of Bingham McCutchen in Boston, believes the Americans allowed the Chinese in to try to secure the support of China, a fellow member of the UN Security Council, for the US invasion of Iraq, which took place in 2003.

Mr. Abdulahad recalled: "The Chinese delegation treated us very badly.

"They brought me out and interrogated me for six hours straight with no food or rest.

"They took me back to my cell and I was extremely tired. But then they came straight back to my cell and took me out for another six hours of interrogation. It went on that way for one-and-a-half days."

Mr. Turahun added: "When the Chinese came they wanted to take my picture, but I didn't want them to, because I was afraid they would harm my family.

"But one of the American guards grabbed my beard and the other held my hands behind my back so they could take the picture."

The men did not want to talk about their families.

The men were detained long after the US military had cleared them for release and won a legal challenge before the US courts last year.

After that, they were moved to a less restrictive existence at Camp Iguana, a separate camp in the Guantánamo complex.

The men are delighted to be in Bermuda and grateful to the Government for taking them when many larger countries refused.

"Bermuda had the courage to step up and do this, "Mr. Abdulahad said. "It's a small place but the people have extremely big hearts.

"We want to live a peaceful and beautiful life here and we are ready to work hard.

"People know we have been in Guantánamo and they have a picture of us which is very different from who we are. When people get to know us they will know what kind of people we are. We are peace-loving people."

Mr. Willett told a story about how the men had gone into a local store to buy clothes.

The radio was on inside and voices on a talk show were complaining about "terrorists" not being welcome in Bermuda.

The storekeeper looked at the men and quickly realised who they must be and said: "Well, I welcome you here."

Who Are the Four Guantanamo Uighurs Sent to Bermuda?

Who Are the Four Guantanamo Uighurs Sent to Bermuda?

Andy Worthington

Journalist and author of "The Guantanamo Files"
Posted: June 11, 2009 07:59 PM

While everyone was looking at a map, trying to work out exactly where Palau is, following the announcement on Tuesday that Guantánamo's 17 Uighur prisoners were to be resettled there, it now transpires that four of the men have been quietly flown to Bermuda instead.

This is rather a surprise, to put it mildly. The Uighurs -- Muslims from China's oppressed Xinjiang province, who were cleared of being "enemy combatants" last year -- have, as I have reported at length, been in a disturbing legal limbo since Barack Obama took office, as the new administration repeatedly failed to find the necessary courage to do the right thing and resettle them in the United States (as ordered by District Court Judge Ricardo Urbina last October).

Instead, senior officials cowered in the face of the poisonous -- and, to be honest, libelous -- venom spewed forth by Guantánamo's many defenders in Congress and in the right-wing media, who have popped up to trail around behind Dick Cheney like a zombie reenactment of the Pied Piper of Hamelin.

Moreover, the administration also resorted to defending a ruling that overturned Judge Urbina's stout defense of Constitutional values, siding with Judge A. Raymond Randolph in the court of appeals and in a petition to the Supreme Court asking the highest court in the land not to look at the Uighurs' case. This was in spite of the fact that Judge Randolph, who would rather eat his own gavel than allow a judge to order the government to allow wrongly imprisoned men into the United States, defended every wayward proposal put his way by the Bush administration, only to see them all overturned by the Supreme Court.

Why Bermuda?

What's astonishing about the choice of Bermuda as the new home for four men from north western China is not its location -- it is, after all, not a million miles away from Cuba, and the Uighurs must be used to the climate by now -- but the fact that it is a British Overseas Territory.

According to London's Times, the Foreign and Commonwealth Office reacted with ill-disguised fury to the news of the men's resettlement, because Bermuda, "Britain's oldest remaining dependency, is one of 14 overseas territories that come under the sovereignty of the United Kingdom, which retains direct responsibility for such matters as foreign policy and security." An FCO spokesman said, "We've underlined to the Bermuda Government that they should have consulted with the United Kingdom as to whether this falls within their competence or is a security issue, for which the Bermuda Government do not have delegated responsibility." He added, "We have made clear to the Bermuda Government the need for a security assessment, which we are now helping them to carry out, and we will decide on further steps as appropriate."

According to the Times, potential conflict with China, which has made repeated demands for the return of the Uighurs, means that the Bermuda government "could now be forced to send them back to Cuba or risk a grave diplomatic crisis" -- although I must admit that it seems possible to me that the Uighurs' resettlement may actually have been negotiated between the governments of the U.S., the U.K. and Bermuda, and that the FCO's "fury" is actually a cover for a pretty watertight case of "plausible deniability."

Before this apparent spat blew up, news of the men's unexpected move to Bermuda leaked out on Thursday morning, after the Uighurs' lawyers reported that the men had arrived in Bermuda shortly after 6 a.m., and were accompanied on a charter flight from Guantánamo by two of their lawyers, Sabin Willett and Susan Baker Manning. After disembarking, one of the men, Abdul Nasser, who, throughout his detention, was described by the Pentagon as Abdul Helil Mamut, thanked their new hosts for accepting them. "Growing up in communism," he said, "we always dreamed of living in peace and working in a free society like this one. Today you have let freedom ring."

As a Justice Department press release explained, "These detainees, who were subject to release as a result of court orders, had been cleared for release by the prior administration, which determined they would no longer treat them as enemy combatants. The detainees were again cleared for release this year after review by the interagency Guantánamo Review Task Force," which, the press release noted, included "a threat evaluation." The DoJ also made a point of stating, "According to available information, these individuals did not travel to Afghanistan with the intent to take any hostile action against the United States."

In a statement on the website of the Uighurs' lawyers, who had been tireless in promoting their clients' innocence, Sabin Willett wrote, "We are deeply grateful to the government and the people of Bermuda for this act of grace. Nations need good friends. When political opportunists blocked justice in our own country, Bermuda has reminded her old friend, America, what justice is." Susan Baker Manning, added, "These men should never have been at Guantánamo. They were picked up by mistake. And when the U.S. government realized its mistake, it continued to imprison them merely because they are refugees. We are grateful to Bermuda for this humanitarian act."

The lawyers also explained that the men will probably have an easier time adapting to their new life than the five other Uighurs who were rehoused in Albania in 2006. Unlike Albania, Bermuda is a wealthy country, and, in addition, the men "have been approved to participate in Bermuda's guest worker program for foreigners."

Who are the four Uighurs?

So who are these men, whose proposed release into the United States caused such a virulent response? As the lawyers explained, in addition to Abdul Nasser, they are Huzaifa Parhat, Abdul Semet (identified by the Pentagon as Emam Abdulahat) and Jalal Jalaladin (identified by the Pentagon as Abdullah Abdulquadirakhun).

Of the four, Parhat is the only one whose name was known outside Guantánamo. In his Combatant Status Review Tribunal (a one-sided military review board, convened to assess whether, on capture, he had been correctly designated as an "enemy combatant," who could be held without charge or trial), he explained that he arrived at the settlement in Afghanistan's Tora Bora mountains (where the Uighurs had been living until it was bombed by U.S. forces following the U.S.-led invasion of Afghanistan) in May 2001, and refuted allegations that it was a facility operated by a militant group that was funded by Osama bin Laden and Taliban.

He also made a heartfelt statement about the Uighurs' support for the United States, explaining that, "from the time of our great-grandparents centuries ago, we have never been against the United States and we do not want to be against the United States," and adding, "I can represent for 25 million Uighur people by saying that we will not do anything against the United States. We are willing to be united with the United States. I think that the United States understands the Uighur people much better than other people." In addition, he was one of several Uighur prisoners to mention threats made by Chinese interrogators who had been allowed to visit Guantánamo, and also to point out that he had had no contact whatsoever with any members of his family.

However, Parhat's story is particularly significant, because last June, after the Supreme Court concluded years of stalling and legislative reversals on the part of the administration by ruling that the prisoners had constitutional habeas corpus rights, his case was finally reviewed by three judges in a U.S. District Court, who demolished the case against him (and, by extension, against the other Uighurs), by ruling as "invalid" the tribunal's decision that he was an "enemy combatant." The judges criticized the government for relying on flimsy and unsubstantiated allegations and associations (primarily to do with the alleged militant group), and in a memorable passage compared the government's argument that its evidence was reliable because it was mentioned in three different classified documents to a line from a nonsense poem by Lewis Carroll, the author of Alice's Adventures in Wonderland.

This led the government to concede that it would "serve no purpose" to continue trying to prove that any of the Uighurs were "enemy combatants," and, in turn, led to Judge Ricardo Urbina's ruling last October that the Uighurs were to be released into the United States, when he stated, simply, "Because the Constitution prohibits indefinite detentions without cause, the continued detention is unlawful" -- although this, of course, was subsequently reversed by the appeals court judges with whom, since coming to power, the Obama administration has maintained an unhealthy judicial alliance.

Abdul Semet told his tribunal that he left home "to escape from the torturing, darkness and suffering of the Chinese government," and "wanted to go to some other country to live in peace." He added, "The government, if they suspect us for anything, would torture and beat us, and fine us money. Lately, the young Uighurs would get caught just doing exercising. They would stop us and say it was not our culture, and put us in jail for it." He also explained, "For the females, if they have [more than] one child, they open them up and throw the baby in the trash."

Speaking of the Uighurs' settlement in the Afghan mountains, he explained that he spent most of his time in "construction," mending the settlement's decrepit buildings, and indicated that he and his compatriots would have been happy to assist the United States if their home had not been bombed. "If the Americans went to Afghanistan and didn't bomb our camp," he said, "then we would be happy and support America; we would've stayed there continuously. The reason we went to Afghanistan doesn't mean we have a relationship with al-Qaeda or some other organization; we went there for peace and not to be turned back over to the Chinese."

Jalal Jalaladin was one of several of the Uighur prisoners to explain that he ended up in the settlement because he had been thwarted in his attempts to get from Pakistan to Turkey to look for work, and where he also believed that the government would give him citizenship. He explained to his tribunal that he got no further than Kyrgyzstan, where he found a job in a bazaar, and that some locals then gave him an address in Pakistan, where a Uighur businessman told him about the settlement. As he was having difficulties getting a visa for Iran, he decided to go to there instead.

And finally, Abdul Nasser gave an explanation about the "training" at the settlement that ought to make the fearful politicians and Conservative pundits in the United States ashamed. He explained that he had arrived at the settlement in June 2001, and that, during his time there -- until it was bombed -- he trained on the camp's one and only gun for no more than a few days. "I don't know if it was an AK-47," he said. "It was an old rifle, and I trained for a couple of days."

Moreover, Abdul Nasser reinforced what another of the men, Abdulghappar (who is still held in Guantánamo), had explained, when asked if it had ever been his intention to fight against the U.S. or its allies. "I have one point: a billion Chinese enemies, that is enough for me," Abdulghappar said. "Why would I get more enemies?" Abdul Nasser explained, "I went to the camp to train because the Chinese government was torturing my country, my people, and they could not do anything. I was trying to protect my country, my country's independence and my freedom. From international law, training is not illegal in order to protect your freedom and independence. I did it for my country."

While waiting to see how Guantánamo's critics respond to this story of a young man training to protect his freedom and independence (which is something they should surely recognize), and while also wondering if Palau is still prepared to take the other 13 Uighurs (before June 25, presumably, when the Supreme Court is scheduled to meet to discuss whether the courts have any authority to order Guantánamo prisoners to be released into the U.S.), I'd like to wish these four men the best of luck in settling into their new home. For those of us who have studied the story of Guantánamo closely, it has actually been apparent all along that the Uighurs should never have been held at all, and that the Pentagon was only interested in them because of the intelligence that they thought they might provide about the activities of the Chinese government.

Andy Worthington is the author of The Guantánamo Files: The Stories of the 774 Detainees in America's Illegal Prison