Close Guantánamo: Washington Post Calls for Last Three Uighur Prisoners to Be Freed in the US

Andy Worthington, 5 May 2012

I wrote the following article for the “Close Guantánamo” website, which I established in January with 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.

Here at “Close Guantánamo,” we were delighted when, a fortnight ago, two prisoners were released from Guantánamo, the first prisoners to be released for 15 months. The two men in question, Abdul Razak Qadir and Ahmed Mohamed, were released in El Salvador, because they are Uighurs, Muslims from Xinjiang province in China, and they were resettled in El Salvador because the US agreed with them — and their lawyers — that it was unsafe for them to be returned to China, where Uighurs face persecution from the Chinese government.

The background to the stories of the Uighurs — 22 of whom were held at Guantánamo in total — was reported in depth in two previous articles for “Close Guantánamo” — New “Close Guantánamo” Campaign Begins Prisoner Profiles, Features Abdul Razak Qadir, One of Five Innocent Uighurs Still Held and Guantánamo: Who Are The Two Uighurs Freed in El Salvador, and Why Are 87 Men Cleared for Release Still Held? — in which it was explained that, after fleeing China, most of them had been living in a rundown settlement in the Afghan mountains, which was bombed by US forces after the US-led invasion in October 2001, forcing them to flee to Pakistan, where villagers first welcomed them and then stealthily sold them to US forces.

The struggle to find new homes for the Uighurs began under President Bush, who relocated five of them to Albania in May 2006. Under President Obama, four were sent to Bermuda in June 2009, six to Palau in October 2009, and two to Switzerland in March 2010, but it took until two weeks ago for a new home to be found for any of the five remaining Uighurs who had been waiting for a new home for over two years.

Almost four years ago, the Bush administration dropped its claim that any of the Uighurs were “enemy combatants,” leading to the 17 remaining Uighurs having their habeas petitions granted in a US federal court, by Judge Ricardo Urbina, in October 2008. However, although Judge Urbina ordered their release in the US, ruling that their continued detention was unconstitutional, the Bush administration appealed, and, under President Obama, the courts, Congress and the administration itself have all acted to prevent the Uighurs — or any other cleared prisoner who cannot be repatriated safely — from being resettled in the US.

As a result, the two men freed in El Salvador had to wait three and a half years from their court victory until they were freed, and, although this was news that was worth celebrating, it should not be forgotten that, for the three of their compatriots who still remain in Guantánamo, the search for a country to take them in may take many more years, or may never result in an acceptable offer of a new home, leaving them stranded in Guantánamo for the rest of their lives.

in an editorial on April 27, the Washington Post tackled the Uighur problem, pointing out that, “[a]fter roughly 10 years of unjustified imprisonment,” the release of two Uighurs in El Salvador was an important achievement, “the result of more than a year of negotiations between El Salvador and the United States and extensive due diligence, including meetings between Salvadoran representatives and the detainees.” The Post‘s editors added, “The release could not have been accomplished but for years of volunteer work by lawyers at the law firm of Bingham McCutchen and the diligence of Daniel Fried, the State Department’s point person for detainee affairs.”

However, for the three Uighurs who remain at Guantánamo, the Post noted that there was “little prospect for release any time soon.” Blaming “unlucky turns and remarkable congressional cowardice,” the Post ran though the story of the Uighurs’ flight from China, their capture, and their long legal battle to clear their names and secure their freedom, describing the release of the 19 Uighurs who have now been freed, and adding, “Some have married and seen the birth of children; by all accounts, each has been a productive and law-abiding member of his new home country.”

This is important, of course, to overcome the enduring power of the Bush administration’s groundless propaganda about the prisoners held at Guantánamo — that they are “the worst of the worst” terrorists — and to further reassure readers, the Post‘s editors added:

The three Uighurs who remain in Guantánamo do not pose any more of a danger to the United States than do their resettled countrymen. They, too, have had offers of relocation but, sadly, have turned them down in hopes of securing an offer from a country with a larger Muslim population. There have been no — and likely will be no — takers, despite good-faith efforts.

The Washington Post editorial concluded:

That is yet another reason why Congress should scrap the reprehensible measure that forbids Guantánamo detainees, including the Uighurs, from being brought into this country. The best reason, of course, is that it is the right and moral thing to do. The refusal of the United States to take in even one Uighur darkens an already sorry chapter in this country’s history.

We at “Close Guantánamo” applaud the editors of the Washington Post for their important stand regarding the three Uighurs still held at Guantánamo. Over 1,400 days since their release was first ordered by Judge Ricardo Urbina in Washington D.C., the three remaining Uighurs — Yusef Abbas, Saidullah Khalik and Hajiakbar Abdulghupur — deserve to be freed immediately, and because no other country has been found that is acceptable, we echo the Post‘s call for them to be brought from Guantánamo to live in the United States, with the Uighur community in Virginia that first offered to help resettle them nearly four years ago.

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) and of two other books: Stonehenge: Celebration and Subversion and The Battle of the Beanfield. To receive new articles in your inbox, please subscribe to my RSS feed (and I can also be found on Facebook, Twitter, Digg and YouTube). Also see my definitive Guantánamo prisoner list, updated in April 2012, “The Complete Guantánamo Files,” a 70-part, million-word series drawing on files released by WikiLeaks in April 2011, and details about the documentary film, “Outside the Law: Stories from Guantánamo” (co-directed by Polly Nash and Andy Worthington, and available on DVD here — or here for the US). Also see my definitive Guantánamo habeas list and the chronological list of all my articles, and please also consider joining the new “Close Guantánamo campaign,” and, if you appreciate my work, feel free to make a donation.

http://www.andyworthington.co.uk/2012/05/05/close-guantanamo-washington-post-calls-for-last-three-uighur-prisoners-to-be-freed-in-the-us/