Back in May, in an article entitled, “Guantánamo: A Real Uighur Slams Newt Gingrich’s Racist Stupidity,” I took exception to remarks that Gingrich, the former House Speaker, made about the Uighur prisoners in Guantánamo (Muslims from China’s Xinjiang province), who managed to get the Bush administration, the military at Guantánamo and the US courts to concede that they were not “enemy combatants” at all, and had, essentially, been seized by mistake, when the US military was offering $5,000 a head for “al-Qaeda and Taliban suspects” to the type of poor Pakistani tribesmen who were all too willing to take advantage of such a generous offer.
As I explained in the article,
[O]n Fox News, Gingrich stated bluntly that he thought the Uighurs should be returned to China. “Why is that our problem?” he asked. “Why are we protecting these guys? Why does it become an American problem?” “Send them to China,” Gingrich continued. “If a third country wants to receive them, send them to a third country. But setting this precedent that if you get picked up by Americans … you show up in the United States, a lawyer files an amicus brief on your behalf for free, a year later you have citizenship because, after all, how can we not give you citizenship since you’re now here, and in between our taxpayers pay for you — this, I think, verges on insanity.”
At the time, Rep. Bill Delahunt (D-Mass.), who serves on the House Foreign Affairs Committee, answered the question, “Why does it become an American problem?” by stating, “Well, in this particular case, we bought it. We bought it literally because these detainees were a victim of some half-cocked initiative, put out by Cheney et al., where they were purchased for $5,000.” In addition, as I explained in May,
Delahunt added that he was surprised that Gingrich — a fervent anti-Communist who condemned China for using torture in 1997 — would ally himself with China. ”I guess he is unaware of the [United Nations] Convention Against Torture which obligates us not to return them to China because it’s clear they would be persecuted and undoubtedly subjected to torture, incarceration and all sorts of degradation, given the history of the red, godless Chinese communist government,” he said, adding, “What I find particularly ironic is, here’s the former Speaker allying himself with the Chinese communists. Quite an interesting development. I guess his fervent anti-communism has abated somewhat.”
Since Gingrich first sacrificed his anti-Communism in favor of the terror-drenched hyperbole of former Vice President Dick Cheney, four of the remaining Uighurs have been released in Bermuda, but with 13 of their compatriots still in Guantánamo, and the Uighur population as a whole suddenly in the news following horrendous ethnic conflict — and, it seems, well-hidden Chinese suppression — in their homeland, I thought this was a good occasion to provide some publicity to an article published yesterday in The Hill by David Keene, the chairman of the American Conservative Union.
In a perceptive analysis of US incompetence regarding the Uighurs — with, it should be noted, a remarkably healthy skepticism regarding the Bush administration’s claims about many of the other prisoners in Guantánamo — Keene demolished Gingrich, and made a point of supporting the views of Rep. Dana Rohrabacher (R-Calif.), who responded to Gingrich’s remarks in May by opening a hearing of the House Foreign Affairs Subcommittee on Human Rights by declaring that Gingrich was “in the Hall of Shame” for his remarks, and who, with Democrats and other Republicans, criticized Gingrich for “fear-mongering” and, as McClatchy Newspapers described it, “allegedly peddling Chinese propaganda.”
In addition, I can’t help but notice that Keene took a position on the Uighurs that, despite being chair of the American Conservative Union and a supporter, during the Presidential race, of Mitt Romney, who, notoriously, thought that the government should “Double Guantánamo,” is more open to atoning for the horrendous mistakes made by the Bush administration — and more sympathetic to the Uighurs in Guantánamo — than anyone in the Obama administration.
It is, of course, to Keene’s credit that he has seen through the “fear-mongering” of Gingrich, Cheney and others, but it reflects badly on Obama and senior officials in the current administration, who, for six months, have found themselves unable to face down the “fear-mongers,” to repudiate the Bush administration’s policies, to tell the Uighurs’ story to the American people with the same sense of honesty and shame as David Keene, and, ultimately, to do the right thing by welcoming the remaining Uighurs onto the US mainland.
David Keene’s article is reproduced below:
The Uighur Dilemma
By David Keene
My good friends Dana Rohrabacher and Newt Gingrich are arguing, albeit at long distance, over the guilt and potential fate of some of the prisoners still being held at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba. Rohrabacher believes the Uighur prisoners still at Guantánamo aren’t terrorists at all, while Newt is convinced they are just too dangerous to be released.
I admire both men but, though they differ on few issues, usually find myself agreeing with Newt rather than Dana on those few. However, this time the evidence (or lack thereof) suggests that it is Dana who has the best of the argument.
Until Chinese security forces began bludgeoning Uighurs during protests that turned into riots in western China, few Americans had heard of these people trapped inside China and enduring long-term persecution, job discrimination and a campaign by Beijing to destroy their ancient culture. The Uighurs are Muslims who, like the Dalai Lama’s Tibetan followers, would rather govern themselves than take orders from their less-than-friendly communist overseers.
The only Uighurs most Americans had heard of at all were the 17 being held at Guantánamo as “enemy combatants” captured on Afghan battlefields in the opening days of the war on terror. It turns out they weren’t captured on the battlefield at all, but apprehended or perhaps kidnapped by Afghan tribesmen [actually, Pakistani tribesmen] who delivered them to US forces in return for bounties we were paying at the time for the capture of known terrorists.
We shipped these Uighurs off to Guantánamo, though we now admit there was never any evidence suggesting they bore us ill will or participated in the battle being waged at the time. It turns out their beef was with Beijing, not Washington. Like the Tibetans who enjoy a better press here, the Uighurs have been under constant assault from the Chinese. Some want independence for their ancestral home, while others seek better treatment from the communist regime.
Objections to even the most cursory review of the charges justifying the incarceration of these and other “enemy combatants” at Guantánamo were dismissed on the grounds that those held there were “the worst of the worst.” These were men, we were told, who were simply too dangerous to be released so long as the war on terrorism raged.
Newt certainly subscribes to this view. Though some argue in light of the evidence that while this was true of some detainees it wasn’t and isn’t true of all, Newt seems to believe that no mistakes were made. He goes further, in fact, in arguing that regardless of whether the Uighurs we bought in 2002 were after us or not, they were trained by the East Turkestan Islamic Movement (ETIM) and are therefore incredibly dangerous customers. The prisoners themselves deny this, arguing that they’d never even heard of the organization until they arrived at Guantánamo.
The Chinese want them back. If they get them back, torture them and ultimately execute them, Beijing will have demonstrated rather powerfully to the Uighurs and other minorities that it does them no good to look to the West for support now or ever again. It turns out that we, in our constant effort to please our Chinese creditors, actually contemplated shipping them home but ultimately decided the televised executions that might follow wouldn’t go over well here.
The problem stems from the fact that after Sept. 11, US officials essentially decided that to avoid dealing with the contention that “one man’s terrorists are another’s freedom fighters,” we would take the position that anyone fighting or offering armed resistance to an incumbent government anywhere would or could, for US purposes, be classified as a terrorist. This delighted despots everywhere, but nowhere more than in Beijing. Chinese authorities immediately asked that Uighurs resisting Beijing be classified as terrorists, and the US complied.
The result was that the Uighurs ended up at Guantánamo and we now have no idea what to do with them. We can’t send them home, and most nations don’t want them because then they will become targets of Beijing’s ire. Having managed to convince not just Newt but millions of Americans that there are no innocents at Guantánamo, we can’t release them here in spite of the fact that “the worst of the worst” weren’t distinguishable from the hapless and the innocent and have turned out to be mere pawns in a game they never agreed to play.
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 also see my definitive Guantánamo prisoner list, published in March 2009.
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), Guantánamo Uyghurs’ resettlement prospects skewered by Justice Department lies (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), A Letter To Barack Obama From A Guantánamo Uighur (March 2009), Obama’s First 100 Days: A Start On Guantánamo, But Not Enough (May 2009), Pain At Guantánamo And Paralysis In Government (May 2009), Guantánamo: A Prison Built On Lies (May 2009), Guantánamo: A Real Uyghur Slams Newt Gingrich’s Racist Stupidity (May 2009), Free The Guantánamo Uighurs! (May 2009), Who Are The Four Guantánamo Uighurs Sent To Bermuda? (June 2009), Guantánamo’s Uighurs In Bermuda: Interviews And New Photos (June 2009), and the stories in the additional chapters of The Guantánamo Files: Website Extras 1, Website Extras 6 and Website Extras 9.
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