How the US Fell for Chinese Lies Regarding the Uighurs at Guantánamo, and Why the Uighurs Need Our Support

A cross-post, with my own detailed introduction, of an article by Richard Bernstein for the Atlantic about how the Bush administration overrode its own considered assessments to support the Chinese government's false description of the Uighurs, an oppressed minority from north west China, as terrorists, in relation to 22 Uighurs who had ended up at
An undated photo of supporters of China’s oppressed Uighur people protesting outside the White House about the imprisonment of Uighurs at Guantánamo. The last of the prison’s Uighurs were freed in 2013, but nowadays the Uighurs are suffering from particularly harsh repression from the Chinese government, with at least a million Uighurs arbitrarily imprisoned in internment camps (Photo: futureatlas.com/flickr).

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Thanks to the Atlantic, and Richard Bernstein, former foreign correspondent for Time and the New York Times, for revisiting the story of Guantánamo’s Uighurs, the ethnic group in the prison who were most transparently unconnected to the anti-American activities of Al-Qaeda.

The timing of Bernstein’s article, ‘When China Convinced the U.S. That Uighurs Were Waging Jihad,’ is evidently intended — and with good reason — to highlight the terrible situation faced by the UIghurs, a Turkic group from Xinjiang province in north western China, who are currently facing the harshest clampdown by the Chinese government in a long history of oppression, with at least a million Uighurs “arbitrarily detained in internment camps in Xinjiang, where they are forced to undergo political indoctrination,” as the Guardian explained in November 2018, after the United Nations’ Human Rights Council’s Universal Periodic Review (the first to study China since 2013) had condemned China for its deteriorating human rights record. As Vox explained, Western governments “had the harshest words for China,” with the US chargé d’affaires Mark Cassayre demanding that China “abolish all forms of arbitrary detention” for Uighurs and other Muslim minorities, and calling on the government to  “release the ‘possibly millions’ of individuals detained there.”

Bernstein’s article focuses on how the Bush administration — shamefully — reversed its opinion about the Chinese government’s oppression of the Uighurs in 2002, to justify its imprisonment of 22 Uighur prisoners at Guantánamo, some of whom spent a total of 12 years in US custody, despite it having been obvious to anyone actually paying attention to their cases that, as many of the Uighurs themselves explained, they had only one enemy — the Chinese government — and had no animosity whatsoever towards the US.

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Rare Words From Guantánamo, From “Forever Prisoner” Ghassan Al-Sharbi

The perimeter fence at Guantánamo, photographed on March 6, 2013 (Photo: Bob Strong/Reuters).

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When the prison at Guantánamo Bay was set up by the Bush administration, over 17 long years ago, the intention was to hide the men held from any kind of outside scrutiny, an intention reflected within the prison, where the prisoners were dehumanized, identified not by name but by what were known as Internment Serial Numbers (ISNs). The ISN system persists to this day, with the 40 men still held after first George W. Bush, and then Barack Obama, shrank the prison’s population to just 5% of the total number of men held since it first opened.

In addition, the effort to hold the men in a permanent state of dehumanization — to prevent any serious form of outside scrutiny — also persists. It is only because the Supreme Court granted the prisoners habeas corpus rights in 2004 that the men were finally allowed to have lawyers visit them, breaking through the shroud of total secrecy that had previously enveloped the prison, and that had allowed horrendous torture and abuse to take place in its first few years of operations.

Of the 40 men still held, most are unknown to the general public. The most prominent are the seven men facing seemingly interminable pre-trial hearings in the broken military commission system, but few people know who most of the others are — five men approved for release under Barack Obama, but still held, and 26 others, accurately described as “forever prisoners” by the mainstream media, whose ongoing imprisonment was recommended by Obama administration officials who reviewed all the prisoners’ cases after Obama took office, and decided that they were too dangerous to release, while conceding that insufficient evidence existed to put them on trial.

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Supporting Whistleblower Chelsea Manning, Imprisoned for Refusing to Testify in Grand Jury Case Against WikiLeaks

Chelsea Manning, in a photo from a fashion shoot for Dazed on February 12, 2019, just 24 days before she was imprisoned for refusing to testify in a Grand Jury case against WikiLeaks.

Please support my work as a reader-funded journalist! I’m currently trying to raise $2500 (£2000) to support my writing and campaigning on Guantánamo and related issues over the next three months of the Trump administration. If you can help, please click on the button below to donate via PayPal.




 

I wrote the following article for the “Close Guantánamo” website, which I established in January 2012, on the 10th anniversary of the opening of Guantánamo, with the US attorney Tom Wilner. Please join us — just an email address is required to be counted amongst those opposed to the ongoing existence of Guantánamo, and to receive updates of our activities by email.

It’s three weeks since Chelsea Manning was imprisoned for refusing to testify in a Grand Jury case against WikiLeaks, and I wanted to make sure that I expressed my solidarity with her, as, without her contributions to breaking through the US government’s deliberate secrecy surrounding the prisoners held at Guantánamo, we would know far less than we do about how weak so much of the so-called evidence is that has been used to defend the imprisonment without charge or trial of the men — and boys — held at Guantánamo without charge or trial since the disgraceful prison opened in January 2002.

It was while working as an intelligence analyst for the US Army in Iraq, in 2009, that Manning leaked to WikiLeaks nearly 750,000 classified — or unclassified but sensitive — US military and diplomatic documents, including the “Collateral Murder” video, featuring footage of a US Army helicopter gunning down a group of unarmed civilians in Iraq, including two Reuters journalists, the Afghan and Iraq war logs, a vast number of US diplomatic cables from around the world, and the classified military files from Guantánamo.

I worked as a media partner with WikiLeaks on the release of these documents in April 2011, and as I stated in an article in January 2017, when President Obama commuted the 35-year sentence that Manning had received after her court-martial in 2013:

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Seven Years Since He Left Guantánamo, Judge Rules That Omar Khadr’s Sentence Is Over, and He Is A Free Man

Some rare good news regarding Guantánamo, as former child prisoner Omar Khadr finally receives confirmation from a Canadian judge that his Guantánamo-related sentence is over. For other ex-prisoners, however, the stigma of being an "enemy combatant" - and their complete lack of rights - continues.
Former Guantánamo prisoner Omar Khadr with his lawyer, Nate Whitling, outside court in Edmonton on March 25, 2019, after a judge ruled that his Guantánamo- related sentence was finally over (Photo: Terry Reith/CBC).

Please support my work as a reader-funded journalist! I’m currently trying to raise $2500 (£2000) to support my writing and campaigning on Guantánamo and related issues over the next three months of the Trump administration. If you can help, please click on the button below to donate via PayPal.




 

Some great news from Canada, where a judge has ruled that former Guantánamo prisoner Omar Khadr’s sentence is finally over.

Back in December, I reported how, although Khadr was given an eight-year sentence after agreeing to a plea deal in his military commission trial at Guantánamo on October 31, 2010, the Canadian government continued to impose restrictions on his freedom — disregarding the fact that their ability to do so should have come to an end with the end of his sentence on October 31, 2018.  

As I explained in December, Khadr had been in court seeking “changes to his bail conditions, requesting to be allowed to travel to Saudi Arabia to perform the hajj (which would require him to be given a passport), and to speak unsupervised with his sister, who is now living in Georgia.” However, the judge, Justice June Ross of the Court of Queen’s Bench of Alberta, refused to end the restrictions on his freedom to travel, or to communicate with his sister Zainab, who I described as “a controversial figure who, in the past, had expressed support for al-Qaeda.”

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Video: I Discuss Guantánamo with Chris Hedges on His Show ‘On Contact’ on RT America

A screenshot of Chris Hedges and Andy Worthington discussing Guantanamo on Chris’s show ‘On Contact’ on RT America.

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An injustice does not become any less unjust the longer it endures, and yet, when it comes to the prison at Guantánamo Bay, you could be forgiven for not thinking that this is the case. Over 17 years since the prison opened, it is still holding men indefinitely without charge or trial, and yet these days the prison is rarely in the news, either in the US or internationally.

The is shameful, because, although only 40 men are still held (out of the 779 men held in total by the US military since the prison opened in January 2002), the blunt truth is that no one should be held indefinitely without charge or trial, because that is what dictatorships do, not countries that, like the US, profess to care about the rule of law.

I’m pleased to report that, in an effort to continue to shine a light on the ongoing horrors of Guantánamo, Chris Hedges, one of the most significant critics of America’s current lawlessness, interviewed me for his show ‘On Contact,’ on RT America, which was broadcast on Saturday, and is embedded below via YouTube:

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As Mohamedou Ould Slahi is Denied a Passport, Remember That All Former Guantánamo Prisoners Live Without Fundamental Rights

Mohamedou Ould Slahi, photographed in the desert after his release, with a message of peace. Photo from Mohamedou's Facebook page.Please support my work as a reader-funded journalist! I’m currently trying to raise $2500 (£2000) to support my writing and campaigning on Guantánamo and related issues over the next three months of the Trump administration. If you can help, please click on the button below to donate via PayPal.




I wrote the following article for the “Close Guantánamo” website, which I established in January 2012, on the 10th anniversary of the opening of Guantánamo, with the US attorney Tom Wilner. Please join us — just an email address is required to be counted amongst those opposed to the ongoing existence of Guantánamo, and to receive updates of our activities by email.

In the long quest for justice for the 779 men and boys held at Guantánamo, it’s not just the 40 men still held who are victims of the US’s contempt for the law in the wake of the 9/11 attacks. Although they, shamefully, remain held indefinitely without charge or trial, or are charged in a broken trial system, the military commissions, that seems incapable of delivering justice, those who have been released from the prison also face problems that, in many cases, will make the rest of their lives a misery.

This is an important fact that those paying attention were reminded of two weeks ago, when Literary Hub published an article about the tribulations of Mohamedou Ould Slahi, torture survivor and best-selling author, who, after nearly 15 years in US custody, was released in his native Mauritania in October 2016.

Although he was never charged with a crime, along with the majority of former Guantánamo prisoners, Slahi expected that there would be restrictions on his freedom following his release, and, sure enough, as Literary Hub described it, “the day after he returned to Nouakchott, Mauritania’s director of state security told him that he couldn’t leave the country for two years.”

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Quarterly Fundraiser Day 1: Seeking $2500 (£2000) to Support My Guantánamo Work, Campaigning and Creativity Over the Next Three Months

Three faces of Andy Worthington: as a campaigner working for the closure of Guantanamo, as a singer-songwriter, and as a housing activist.Please click on the ‘Donate’ button below to make a donation towards the $2,500 (£2,000) I’m trying to raise to support my work on Guantánamo over the next three months of the Trump administration.




 

Dear friends and supporters,

Every three months I ask you, if you can, to make a donation to support my work as a freelance journalist and activist, working primarily to close the prison at Guantánamo Bay, but also working on social justice issues in the UK, particularly involving housing.

This time of year is always significant to me, as it was when, 13 years ago, three things happened that brought me to where I am today. On TV, on March 9, 2006, I watched ‘The Road to Guantánamo’, a dramatization by Michael Winterbottom and Mat Whitecross of the experiences of three British prisoners known as ‘the Tipton Three.’ Around the same time I also bought and read ‘Enemy Combatant’, Moazzam Begg’s account of his life and his time in Guantánamo, and a few days earlier, on March 3, the Pentagon, in response to a Freedom of Information Act lawsuit filed by the Associated Press, released 5,000 pages of documents relating to the prisoners.

When two prisoner lists were subsequently released — one listing 558 prisoners on April 19, 2006, and another listing 759 prisoners on May 15, all the components were in place for me to begin what seems to have become my life’s work — going through all these documents, and thousands on other pages released by the Pentagon, telling the stories of the prisoners, and working to get the prison closed. Read the rest of this entry »

‘Guantánamo Kid’: A Graphic Novel Telling the Harrowing Story of Child Prisoner Mohammed El-Gharani by Jérôme Tubiana and Alexandre Franc

Promotion for 'Guantanamo Kid' featuring a review by Andy Worthington.Please support my work as a reader-funded journalist! I’m currently trying to raise $2500 (£2000) to support my writing and campaigning on Guantánamo and related issues over the next three months of the Trump administration. If you can help, please click on the button below to donate via PayPal.




 

On Tuesday March 12, the British publisher SelfMadeKid is releasing ‘Guantánamo Kid,’ a graphic novel by Jérôme Tubiana and Alexandre Franc, which tells the harrowing story of former child prisoner Mohammed El-Gharani. It was first published last year, in French, by Dargaud.

I’m pleased to note that the publishers asked me to write a review for the book, which they have used in the promotional image at the top of this article, and in which I stated, “Mohammed El-Gharani knows all about the horrors of Guantánamo, as a child subjected to torture by the US authorities and held in the prison for eight years. And yet far too many people still don’t know about Guantánamo’s long and abusive history, and one main reason is that no footage or photos of any of the torture and abuse has ever surfaced. Overcoming this critical lack of images, Jérôme Tubiana, a journalist who spent time with Mohammed after his release in 2010, hearing his story, has worked with the talented comic artist Alexandre Franc to bring his ordeal to life in a graphic novel that deserves to be read as widely as possible, as, in page after page of harrowing memories, Mohammed tells his story with wit, endurance and unbreakable spirit.”

I covered Mohammed El-Gharani’s story extensively while he was held at Guantánamo, originally in my book The Guantánamo Files, published in September 2007, in which I explained what I had been able to piece together at the time about his story, via US military documents, and his lawyers, at the London-based legal action charity Reprieve. Read the rest of this entry »

Please Watch ‘The Trial’, A Powerful Video About Guantánamo’s Broken Military Commission Trial System

A screenshot, from 'The Trial,' of Ammar al-Baluchi's defense team - from the left, Alka Pradhan, James Connell and Lt. Col. Sterling Thomas.Please support my work as a reader-funded journalist! I’m currently trying to raise $2500 (£2000) to support my writing and campaigning on Guantánamo and related issues over the next three months of the Trump administration. If you can help, please click on the button below to donate via PayPal.




 

In the long and horrendously unjust story of Guantánamo, the two key elements of America’s flight from the law since 9/11 have been the use of torture, and the imprisonment of men, indefinitely, without charge or trial. A third element is the decision to try some of these men, in a trial system ill-advisedly dragged out of the history books by former Vice President Dick Cheney and his legal adviser David Addington.

That system — the military commissions — has struggled to deliver anything resembling justice, in large part because it was designed to accept evidence produced through torture, and then to execute prisoners after cursory trials. The Supreme Court ruled this system illegal in 2006, but Congress then tweaked it and revived it, and, after Barack Obama became president, it was tweaked and revised again instead of being scrapped, as it should have been.

Throughout this whole sorry period, the US federal courts have, in contrast, proven adept at successfully prosecuting those accused of terrorism, but at Guantánamo the commissions have struggled to successfully convict anyone. Since 2008, just eight cases have gone to trial, but six were settled via plea deals, and, of the other two, one ended up with the prisoner in question (Salim Hamdan, a hapless driver for Osama bin Laden)  being released after just five months, while the other was an outrageously one-sided affair, as the prisoner in question (Ali Hamza al-Bahlul, a propagandist for Al-Qaeda) refused even to mount a defense. The commissions also have a history of collapsing on appeal — and with good reason, as the alleged war crimes most of the prisoners were convicted of were actually invented by Congress. For an overview of the commissions, see my article, The Full List of Prisoners Charged in the Military Commissions at Guantánamo. Read the rest of this entry »

Alarm as Proposals Emerge to Send ISIS Prisoners to Guantánamo, and the UK Strips “ISIS Bride” of Her Citizenship

"ISIS brides" Shamima Begum and Hoda Muthana (composite image by Ozy).Please support my work as a reader-funded journalist! I’m currently trying to raise $2500 (£2000) to support my writing and campaigning on Guantánamo and related issues over the next three months of the Trump administration. If you can help, please click on the button below to donate via PayPal.




 

I wrote the following article for the “Close Guantánamo” website, which I established in January 2012, on the 10th anniversary of the opening of Guantánamo, with the US attorney Tom Wilner. Please join us — just an email address is required to be counted amongst those opposed to the ongoing existence of Guantánamo, and to receive updates of our activities by email.

17 years after the US tore up international and domestic laws and treaties regarding the treatment of prisoners, in the “war on terror” that George W. Bush declared in the wake of the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, and which led to the establishment of CIA “black sites” and the prison at Guantánamo Bay, those decisions continue to cast a baleful shadow on notions of domestic and international justice.

A case in point concerns foreign nationals seized during the horrendous war in Syria over the last eight years. 

From the start of his presidency, Donald Trump made it clear that he wanted to send new prisoners to Guantánamo, and those involved in Daesh (more commonly referred to in the West as ISIS or the Islamic State) were particularly singled out.

Fortunately, wiser heads prevailed, and the proposals came to nothing. Some of those advising Trump pointed out that it seemed probable that a new Congressional authorization would be required to send prisoners to Guantánamo who were not explicitly involved with al-Qaeda, the Taliban, or the 9/11 attacks, and, in any case, others recognized that Guantánamo was no place to send anyone if there was any intention of delivering anything resembling justice. Read the rest of this entry »

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Andy Worthington

Investigative journalist, author, campaigner, commentator and public speaker. Recognized as an authority on Guantánamo and the “war on terror.” Co-founder, Close Guantánamo, co-director, We Stand With Shaker. Also, singer and songwriter (The Four Fathers) and photographer.
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