How China Uses Guantánamo’s Former Uyghur Prisoners to Justify the Mass Imprisonment of Uyghurs in Xinjiang Province

Uyghur prisoners in Guantánamo calling for their release in 2009 (above), and Uyghur prisoners in a “re-education” camp in Xinjiang province in 2018 (below).

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CNN is to be congratulated for recently publishing a detailed article about one of lingering injustices of the prison at Guantánamo Bay, involving the Uyghurs, a predominantly Turkic-speaking ethnic group from Xinjiang province, in the north west of China, whose cases I have reported on ever since I first began researching and writing about Guantánamo in 2006.

22 Uyghurs, captured crossing from Afghanistan to Pakistan in December 2001, ended up at Guantánamo, where the Bush administration, seeking cooperation from the Chinese authorities in the global “war on terror” that the US declared after the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, obligingly designated the Uyghur prisoners as members of a largely non-existent terrorist organization, the Eastern Turkistan Islamic Movement (ETIM).

This decision not only continues to blight the lives of the former Guantánamo prisoners, who were all resettled in third countries between 2006 and 2013, having been cleared of all wrongdoing by the US, but has also been used by the Chinese government to justify its ruthless imprisonment, since 2017, of at least a million Uyghurs in “re-education” camps, where credible allegations have been repeatedly made about how, as well as attempting to eradicate Uyghur culture, religion and identity through “re-education,” the camps also involve the forced sterilisation of Uyghur women, and the forced separation of children from their parents. There have also been numerous credible reports about Uyghur women being subjected to rape and torture.

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Clive Stafford Smith on Guantánamo: “You Are Cleared to Leave, But You Cannot Go”

On Friday, a powerful op-ed appeared on CNN’s website, entitled, “Mr. President, what should I tell cleared prisoners in Guantánamo?” It was written by someone who has been meeting prisoners at Guantánamo, as a civilian lawyer, for nearly ten years, and has been meeting prisoners who have been told that the US no longer wants to hold them — that they have been cleared for release — for up to seven years.

The author of the op-ed is Clive Stafford Smith, the founder and director of Reprieve, the London-based legal action charity whose lawyers represent 14 of the 155 men still held at Guantánamo, including one man, Shaker Aamer, the last British resident in the prison, who was told in 2007 that the US no longer wanted to hold him. Soon after he was told this, another British resident was freed, with three more following in December 2007. The last to be freed was Binyam Mohamed, in February 2009, but for Shaker his long and pointless imprisonment seems to be unending.

This is in spite of the fact that President Obama established a high-level, inter-agency task force to review the cases of all the men held shortly after he took office in January 2009, and, a year later, the task force issued a report containing their recommendations: who to release, who to prosecute, and — most dubiously — who to continue holding without charge or trial on the basis that they were too dangerous to release, even though insufficient evidence existed to put them on trial. 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 and We Stand With Shaker. Also, photo-journalist (The State of London), and singer and songwriter (The Four Fathers).
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