Guantánamo Uyghurs’ resettlement prospects skewered by Justice Department lies

17.10.08

A prisoner at GuantanamoGuantánamo is full of bleak stories. How could it fail to be, when it is a vast failed experiment, a “terror prison” that contains few terrorists, a place where innocent men and foot soldiers from someone else’s war — never adequately screened to determine whether they actually constituted a threat to the United States — have been held for nearly seven years without charge or trial?

At present, some of Guantánamo’s bleakest stories are those of the Uyghurs (or Uighurs), refugees from Chinese oppression, who had sheltered in Afghanistan, and were seized and sold to US forces as they sought refuge in Pakistan after the US-led invasion of Afghanistan in October 2001.

Last week, I told the story of the Uyghurs in Guantánamo, after the government admitted that it had no reason to regard them as “enemy combatants,” and Judge Ricardo Urbina, in the District Court in Washington D.C., ruled that their continued imprisonment was therefore unconstitutional, and that, because they cannot be returned to China, and no other country can be persuaded to take them, they should be released to the care of communities in Washington D.C. and Tallahassee, Florida, who submitted detailed plans for their welfare to the court.

For one proud moment, it looked as if justice would be done, but the Uyghurs were then hurled back into limbo, as the government appealed Judge Urbina’s ruling, shamelessly resuscitating its own long-discredited claims that the Uyghurs were “a danger to the public,” who had “admitted receiving weapons training at a military training camp.” Three appeals court judges granted the government a temporary stay, though with the hopeful caveat that it “should not be construed in any way as a ruling on the merits” of the government’s request.

Since the appeal, it has become apparent that the government’s stooges in the Justice Department are intent on keeping the Uyghurs in Guantánamo, as their false claims about the men have skewered the State Department’s chances of finding a third country to take them. As William Glaberson reported in the New York Times, an administration official, speaking anonymously, said that the State Department’s position was that the Justice Department’s appeal had “compromised diplomatic efforts” to persuade a third country to take the men. “Based on what they were saying in the brief, it made it impossible to conduct negotiations,” the official said.

Although the Justice Department refused to comment, Clint Williamson, the State Department’s ambassador-at-large for war crimes, who has fruitlessly been attempting to negotiate resettlement plans with other countries for several years, explained how the government’s bullish and unsubstantiated statements had scuppered his chances of finding a last minute solution to the problem. Speaking to the Times, he said, “I was scheduled to depart on another round of negotiations early this week. It was impossible to resolve some concerns we had about going forward at the time. As a result I canceled the trip.”

Tallahassee, FloridaA decision on the government’s appeal is expected soon, but in the meantime the Uyghurs’ supporters in Tallahassee are still hoping that Judge Urbina’s ruling will be upheld. On October 1, 19 religious leaders –- 16 Christians, a Rabbi and two Muslims — issued a statement, in which they declared their support for “an inter-faith effort to resettle three of the Uyghur prisoners currently held in federal custody at the facility in Guantánamo Bay, Cuba,” and pledged that, “Should these men be paroled, we will offer our personal welcome and support, and will urge the faith communities with whom we are associated to offer spiritual, financial, and practical assistance for their resettlement and incorporation into the Tallahassee community.”

In a detailed plan, the Steering Committee of the Tallahassee Uyghur Resettlement Plan — a mixture of religious leaders and sympathetic professionals — arranged to locate an apartment for the men, secured them jobs in a local restaurant, arranged for English lessons and medical and psychiatric support, and raised money to fund the plan through a network already established to provide support to victims of Hurricane Katrina.

All of this was credited with helping persuade Judge Urbina that resettling the Uyghurs in the United States was feasible, and when Carol Rosenberg spoke to community leaders for the Miami Herald this week, she found that sympathy for the Uyghurs was widespread. Noting that their supporters “liken their plight to that of the Tibetans, without the benefit of a celebrity like the Dalai Lama to tell their story,” Rosenberg spoke to Brant Copeland, the pastor of the First Presbyterian Church of Tallahassee and a member of the Steering Committee. Copeland delivered an extraordinary sermon about the Uyghurs to his congregation last month (available here), describing their story and extolling the virtues of compassion, and he explained the Committee’s statement of support as follows:

It’s a pro-Jesus statement. Regardless of one’s political opinion, these are folks who were caught in the wrong place at the wrong time, and they have been so unjustly imprisoned for seven years. This issue cuts across all the political agendas. It’s a pro-compassion statement. And a pro-Mohammed statement and a pro-Moses statement.

Rosenberg also spoke to civil rights attorney Kent Spriggs, who has represented several Afghan prisoners in Guantánamo. It was Spriggs who introduced the plan to community leaders in Tallahassee, explaining the Uyghurs’ story to Salah Bakhashwin, who spread the word through the city’s 3,000-member Muslim community. A Saudi by birth, Bakhashwin came to America at the age of 17, and told Rosenberg that he was “weary of the ‘guilt-by-association’ atmosphere toward Muslims that followed the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks.” He added, ”We’re going to show the people of Tallahassee and Florida what happens when people of faith come together for the community good.” Another Saudi-born Tallahassee resident — a massage therapist — took on the role as leader of the host community, and when he told a Turkish-American businessman about it, the man guaranteed the Uyghurs jobs at his Italian restaurant chain. Another local, of Pakistani origin, found them an apartment near Tallahassee’s main mosque.

Rosenberg also spoke to other religious leaders. The Reverend John Lown, of the Lafayette Presbyterian Church, explained that he would “model the absorption program after his ’90s experience with the Northern Virginia Council of Churches resettling Bosnians and Ukrainians,” and Rabbi Jack Romberg, of the Reform movement’s Temple Israel, explained, “If indeed these people are found to be harmless, it’s only just that we find a way to take them in, get them on their feet and up and running as people who function in the community.” Rosenberg left the final word to Naeem Harris, the Imam of Tallahassee’s main mosque, who “has now embraced the idea that he will serve as spiritual leader” for the three Uyghurs. “Look at the good that can come from it,” Harris explained. “This can be an opportunity to show a lot of non-Muslims the real religion of Islam.”

To my eyes, the Tallahassee Uyghur Resettlement Plan is a glorious example of American generosity: a group of diverse individuals, acutely aware of their own background as immigrants and of the charitable obligations of their various religions, coming together to help a new group of immigrants in need. But I recall, of course, that the decision about the Uyghurs’ future rests not with the community leaders in Tallahassee or Washington D.C., but with judges who may be less in touch with their own roots as immigrants, and who may have forgotten that their own ancestors once fled injustice and persecution for the promise of America.

Andy Worthington is the author of The Guantánamo Files: The Stories of the 774 Detainees in America’s Illegal Prison (published by Pluto Press, distributed by Macmillan in the US, and available from Amazon — click on the following for the US and the UK). To receive new articles in your inbox, please subscribe to my RSS feed, and see here for my definitive Guantánamo prisoner list, published in March 2009.

As published on the Huffington Post.

For a sequence of articles dealing with the Uighurs in Guantánamo, see: The Guantánamo whistleblower, a Libyan shopkeeper, some Chinese Muslims and a desperate government (July 2007), Guantánamo’s Uyghurs: Stranded in Albania (October 2007), Former Guantánamo detainee seeks asylum in Sweden (November 2007), A transcript of Sabin Willett’s speech in Stockholm (November 2007), Support for ex-Guantánamo detainee’s Swedish asylum claim (January 2008), A Chinese Muslim’s desperate plea from Guantánamo (March 2008), Former Guantánamo prisoner denied asylum in Sweden (June 2008), Six Years Late, Court Throws Out Guantánamo Case (June 2008), Guantánamo as Alice in Wonderland (July 2008), From Guantánamo to the United States: The Story of the Wrongly Imprisoned Uighurs (October 2008), A Pastor’s Plea for the Guantánamo Uyghurs (October 2008), Guantánamo: Justice Delayed or Justice Denied? (October 2008), Sabin Willett’s letter to the Justice Department (November 2008), Will Europe Take The Cleared Guantánamo Prisoners? (December 2008), A New Year Message to Barack Obama: Free the Guantánamo Uighurs (January 2009), Guantanamo’s refugees (February 2009), Bad News And Good News For The Guantánamo Uighurs (February 2009), and the stories in the additional chapters of The Guantánamo Files: Website Extras 1, Website Extras 6 and Website Extras 9.

For a sequence of articles dealing with the Guantánamo habeas cases, see: Guantánamo and the Supreme Court: the most important habeas corpus case in modern history and Guantánamo and the Supreme Court: What Happened? (both December 2007), The Supreme Court’s Guantánamo ruling: what does it mean? (June 2008), What’s Happening with the Guantánamo cases? (July 2008), Government Says Six Years Is Not Long Enough To Prepare Evidence (September 2008), Guilt By Torture: Binyam Mohamed’s Transatlantic Quest for Justice (November 2008), After 7 Years, Judge Orders Release of Guantánamo Kidnap Victims (November 2008), Is Robert Gates Guilty of Perjury in Guantánamo Torture Case? (December 2008), The Top Ten Judges of 2008 (January 2009), No End in Sight for the “Enemy Combatants” of Guantánamo (January 2009), Judge Orders Release of Guantánamo’s Forgotten Child (January 2009), How Cooking For The Taliban Gets You Life In Guantánamo (January 2009), Lies, Damned Lies and Statistics (February 2009), The Nobodies Formerly Known As Enemy Combatants (March 2009), Farce at Guantánamo, as cleared prisoner’s habeas petition is denied (April 2009), Obama’s First 100 Days: A Start On Guantánamo, But Not Enough (May 2009), Judge Condemns “Mosaic” Of Guantánamo Intelligence, And Unreliable Witnesses (May 2009), Pain At Guantánamo And Paralysis In Government (May 2009), Guantánamo: A Prison Built On Lies (May 2009), Free The Guantánamo Uighurs! (May 2009), Guantánamo And The Courts (Part One): Exposing The Bush Administration’s Lies (July 2009), Obama’s Failure To Deliver Justice To The Last Tajik In Guantánamo (July 2009), Obama And The Deadline For Closing Guantánamo: It’s Worse Than You Think (July 2009), How Judge Huvelle Humiliated The Government In Guantánamo Case (Mohamed Jawad, July 2009), As Judge Orders Release Of Tortured Guantánamo Prisoner, Government Refuses To Concede Defeat (Mohamed Jawad, July 2009), Guantánamo As Hotel California: You Can Check Out Any Time You Like, But You Can Never Leave (August 2009), Judge Orders Release From Guantánamo Of Kuwaiti Charity Worker (August 2009). Also see: Justice extends to Bagram, Guantánamo’s Dark Mirror (April 2009), Judge Rules That Afghan “Rendered” To Bagram In 2002 Has No Rights (July 2009).

14 Responses

  1. How cooking for the Taliban can get you Gitmo’d « A War of Illusions says...

    [...] Huzaifa Parhat, a Uighur from China’s oppressed Xinjiang province – the government lodged a miserable and unprincipled appeal to stop Parhat and his 16 compatriots from settling in the United States, after district court [...]

  2. freedetainees.org » Bad News And Good News For The Guantánamo Uighurs says...

    [...] their release into the care of communities in the D.C area and in Tallahassee, Florida, who had prepared detailed plans for their [...]

  3. Guantánamo: The Definitive Prisoner List (Part 1) « Muslim in Suffer says...

    [...] [...]

  4. A Letter To Barack Obama From A Guantánamo Uighur by Andy Worthington « Dandelion Salad says...

    [...] proved intolerable to the Bush administration, which appealed the decision. The Justice Department spouted unprincipled claims that the men were a threat (even though they had been cleared of being “enemy combatants”), and [...]

  5. Obama’s First 100 Days: A Start On Guantánamo, But Not Enough by Andy Worthington « Dandelion Salad says...

    [...] to enrage China by accepting them, they should be accepted onto the US mainland. Shamefully, the Bush administration appealed, and the new government did nothing in response when, on February 18, a notoriously Conservative [...]

  6. Guantánamo: A Real Uyghur Slams Newt Gingrich’s Racist Stupidity by Andy Worthington « Dandelion Salad says...

    [...] “Meet The Real Uyghurs,” Nury A. Turkel, a Uyghur American attorney, who has been involved in the resettlement plans that were scuppered by the Justice Department and Judges Randolph and Henderson, presented a [...]

  7. Guantánamo And The Courts Part One: Exposing The Bush Administration’s Lies by Andy Worthington « Dandelion Salad says...

    [...] men to be released to the care of communities in the capital, and in Tallahassee, Florida, who had prepared detailed plans for their resettlement, because it was unsafe for them to return to China, because no other country [...]

  8. Six Uighurs Go To Palau; Seven Remain In Guantánamo by Andy Worthington « Dandelion Salad says...

    [...] Bush administration appealed, and, when President Obama took office, he followed the same line, failing to take the opportunity [...]

  9. Innocent Guantánamo Torture Victim Fouad al-Rabiah Is Released In Kuwait « freedetainees.org says...

    [...] From Guantánamo to the United States: The Story of the Wrongly Imprisoned Uighurs (October 2008), Guantánamo Uyghurs’ resettlement prospects skewered by Justice Department lies (October 2008), Guilt By Torture: Binyam Mohamed’s Transatlantic Quest for Justice (November [...]

  10. “Model Prisoner” at Guantánamo, Tortured in the “Dark Prison,” Loses Habeas Corpus Petition « freedetainees.org says...

    [...] From Guantánamo to the United States: The Story of the Wrongly Imprisoned Uighurs (October 2008), Guantánamo Uyghurs’ resettlement prospects skewered by Justice Department lies (October 2008), Guilt By Torture: Binyam Mohamed’s Transatlantic Quest for Justice (November [...]

  11. Palau President Asks Australia to Offer Homes to Guantánamo Uighurs « freedetainees.org says...

    [...] From Guantánamo to the United States: The Story of the Wrongly Imprisoned Uighurs (October 2008), Guantánamo Uyghurs’ resettlement prospects skewered by Justice Department lies (October 2008), A Pastor’s Plea for the Guantánamo Uyghurs (October 2008), Guantánamo: Justice [...]

  12. No Escape from Guantanamo: Uighurs Lose Again in US Court « EUROPE TURKMEN FRIENDSHIPS says...

    [...] response, the Bush administration appealed, and when President Obama came to power he maintained the same position. In February 2009, with the [...]

  13. An Evening with Andy Worthington: “Outside the Law: Stories from Guantanamo” « Dandelion Salad says...

    [...] from China), explaining how a judge ordered their release into the United States last October, how the Bush administration appealed this ruling, and how the Obama administration maintained this same position, missing the opportunity to bring [...]

  14. No Escape From Guantánamo: Uighurs Lose Again in US Court » World Uyghur Congress says...

    [...] response, the Bush administration appealed, and when President Obama came to power he maintained the same position. In February 2009, with the [...]

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