Originally published by http://www.countercurrents.org/worthington070610.htm, 07 June 2010
By Andy Worthington
In 2002, when Guantánamo opened, 22 Uighurs (Muslims from China’s oppressed Xinjiang province) were held in the prison, even though interrogators in Afghanistan (where the prisoners were processed for Guantánamo) had already realized that they had no connection to al-Qaeda or the Taliban. The men were mostly seized by Pakistani villagers and sold to US forces after fleeing a settlement in Afghanistan, where they had ended up either because they had found it impossible to travel to Turkey, where some had hoped to find work, or because they nursed futile hopes of rising up against the Chinese government, whose oppression of the Uighurs was distressingly revealed to the world last July.
Over the years, the Uighurs became pawns in the Bush administration’s diplomatic relations with the Chinese government, but were mostly cleared for release after military tribunals and review boards concluded that they were innocent men, seized by mistake. Five were released in May 2006, given new homes in a refugee camp in Albania, the only country that would accept them, but the remaining 17 languished until their habeas corpus petitions reached a US court in October 2008, and Judge Ricardo Urbina granted their petitions and ordered their release into the United States. Judge Urbina concluded that their continued detention was unconstitutional, and that the US had an obligation to accept them because there were legitimate fears that they would be tortured if returned to China, and also because no other country had been found that was prepared to take them.