Seventeen Uighurs at Guantanamo

In the long, tragic story of this country’s mismanagement of the prisoners held at Guantanamo, the story of 17 Uighurs (pronounced “wee-grrs”) stands out. Imprisoned for seven years and counting, these Turkic Muslims come from the westernmost province of China (Xinjiang). The U.S. Government, having been forced to admit that the Uighurs were not “enemy combatants” and therefore should never have been detained in the first place, is now fighting tooth-and-nail to avoid releasing these unfortunate men.
The Uighurs’ home province
Two weeks ago, Judge Ricardo Urbina of the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia ordered that the Uighurs be brought to his courtroom in preparation for release in the Washington area under parole-type conditions he would impose. His order became necessary because the American government insists that it has tried but failed to find another nation that would take the Uighurs in. China does not want them since they are avowedly hostile to China (more below). Other nations do not want them because they fear making China angry, and because America has branded them terrorists for seven years. And so they continue to rot at Guantanamo.
Judge Ricardo Urbina
Terrified that these innocent people might regain their freedom, our government immediately pressed an emergency appeal of Judge Urbina’s order, which the Court of Appeals will hear on November 24. Until then, Judge Urbina’s order has been stayed.
As described in Judge Urbina’s ruling, the story of the Uighurs is a twenty-first century saga of being in the wrong place at the wrong time. Many Uighurs do not like China. They view China as an oppressor that exploits their homeland’s rich mineral resources, which lie below the desert floor. The seventeen men held at Guantanamo had traveled to Afghanistan to receive “weapons training” so they could join a resistance movement against the Chinese. Unfortunately, they were there in September 2001, when the Americans invaded. The Uighurs fled to Pakistan to avoid running afoul of the Americans. There, certain Pakistanis seized them and sold them to U.S. authorities for $5,000 apiece. Our forces took them to Guantanamo.
So, to summarize:
— The Uighurs never intended to do anything hostile to the United States; indeed, they left Afghanistan to avoid doing so.
— They were seized by American forces and taken halfway around the world to be held in prison for seven years.
— Now that the American government has had to admit that it has no basis for continuing to hold them, we refuse to release them into our own country, even though they have never taken up arms against it and even though they can go nowhere else.
I am helping to prepare a brief in support of the Uighurs’ release, in the appeal of Judge Urbina’s ruling on their habeas corpus petition. We expect to argue, based on the history of the habeas corpus remedy in Britain and early America, that a prisoner who demonstrates that he has been wrongly imprisoned must be released. We also expect to argue, again based on history, that this country has a long tradition of allowing reisdence here for those who may wish ill to foreign governments, or even have taken up arms against them. Start with Francisco Miranda, Giuseppe Garibaldi, Lajos Kossuth, and the Hungarian fighters of 1956. Surely we should afford such residence for people whose rights we have so totally abused.
Talk about needing change.

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