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Who Are The Uyghur And Why Are They In Guantanamo?

June 23, 2008



U.S. Frees Last of Uighur Detainees From Guantánamo


Published: December 31, 2013

WASHINGTON — In what the Pentagon called a “significant milestone” in the effort to close the prison at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba, the military announced on Tuesday that the United States had transferred three Chinese detainees to Slovakia.

The three were the last of 22 ethnic Uighurs from China who were captured after the American invasion of Afghanistan in 2001 and brought to Guantánamo.


(“You can receive millions of dollars for helping the Anti-Taliban Force catch Al-Qaida and Taliban murderers. This enough money to take care of your family, your village, your tribe for the rest of your life. Pay for livestock and doctors and school books and housing for all of your people”)

When China offered a bounty for capturing, killing or detaining the Uyghur (pronounced “Weeer”), the US Military obliged. Conveniently, they categorized the Uyghur as terrorists, because China says so … China has more influence than our own legal system. How many readers have ever heard about these people? The Uyghur are treated as bad or worse than Tibetans. Its a religious thing, Uyghur are Muslims. China has a greedy ally who will do anything for money … of course, we’re rounding up terrorists, too. Unethical behavior seldom makes media headlines, unless someone blows the whistle very loud and long, like for Tillman.

SALON In 2001 a group of 18 Uighurs, an ethnic minority from Xinjiang province in western China, was living together in a camp in Afghanistan when the coalition bombing started. They claim that they fled to the Afghan mountains, were led across the border to Pakistan by some other travelers, and were sold to the United States for bounty money. Five other Uighurs also ended up in Guantánamo, possibly sold to the United States as well.

Most of these men have been cleared for release since 2003, yet remain in Guantánamo because they can’t return to China, and neither the United States nor any other country has been willing to take them in. While five of the Uighurs were resettled in Albania in 2005, 16 others remain housed in one of the most draconian facilities in Guantánamo, reportedly because they threw feces and urine at prison guards following a dispute about the Koran in May 2007. But instead of receiving a 30- or 90-day punishment, as is common in U.S. prisons for disruptive behavior, the Uighurs were moved into one of the highest-security, most restrictive parts of the facility — indefinitely.

The Tibetans you’ve never heard of

America’s prison for terrorists often held the wrong men

China: Religious Repression of Uighur Muslims

Architecture of Xinjiang Suppression Detailed

“The worldwide campaign against terrorism has given Beijing the perfect excuse to crack down harder than ever in Xinjiang,” said Brad Adams, Asia director for Human Rights Watch. “Other Chinese enjoy a growing freedom to worship, but the Uighurs, like the Tibetans, find that their religion is being used as a tool of control.”

China ‘crushing Muslim Uighurs’

China has been accused by two US-based human rights groups of conducting a “crushing campaign of religious repression” against Muslim Uighurs.

China Confirms Protests by Uighur Muslims

SHANGHAI — Chinese officials said Wednesday that they were grappling with ethnic unrest on a second front, in the northwestern region of Xinjiang, where Uighur Muslims protested Chinese rule last month even as Tibetans rioted in the southwest.

FindLaw By JOANNE MARINER, human rights attorney

Uighurs in Albania Most Americans have never heard of the Uighurs and wouldn’t be able to find Albania on a map. And if the Uighurs are obscure, then Uighurs in Albania are obscurity squared: an alien people in a faraway place.

But there are now five Uighurs in Albania, and how they ended up there deserves attention. It’s a story of superpower politics, ethnic oppression, and the limits of the law. It highlights a problem that the United States has brought on itself: what to do with the hundreds of detainees who are currently held at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, some of whom cannot be returned home.

China to Afghanistan to Cuba

The Uighurs are Turkic Muslims from the Xinjiang region in far western China. A group of them were in Afghanistan when war began in 2001 and were captured in the wake of the fighting, some by Pakistani bounty hunters. Twenty-two Uighurs were sent to Guantanamo, along with other detainees deemed the “worst of the worst.”

By late 2003, having interviewed them extensively, U.S. officials concluded that most of the Uighur detainees were not a threat. Five of them, in fact, were found not to be “enemy combatants” at all, while ten more were deemed to be low-risk enough to merit release.

But while bringing the Uighurs to Cuba was easy, getting them off the island was not. They could not be sent to China, their country of citizenship, for fear of persecution. As part of the “fight against three evils” — terrorism, religious extremism and separatism – the Chinese government has cracked down hard against its Uighur minority. Accusing them of plotting bombings and other sabotage, the Chinese government has incarcerated Uighur dissidents with little proof of actual involvement in violent acts.

Under international law, the only country that is clearly obliged to accept a person’s entry is that person’s country of citizenship. So while the U.S. could not return the Uighurs to China, it could not require any other country to take them either.

Instead, the U.S. had to wheedle: to appeal to other countries’ humanitarian inclinations. But this is an age of unwanted refugees and, more importantly, of growing Chinese power. Few countries are willing to risk alienating Beijing by granting asylum to the Uighurs as a group . Although the U.S. approached a whole host of countries — Finland, Sweden, Switzerland, Turkey and others – none agreed to accept them.

Uighurs in Court

At the same time as the U.S. government was trying to negotiate the Uighurs’ resettlement, a case brought by two of the Uighurs was making its way through the federal courts. At issue in the case was whether the U.S. could hold the Uighurs indefinitely even after it found that they pose no threat to national security.

On the merits of their claim, District Judge James Robertson ruled unequivocally in favor of the Uighurs. “The detention of these petitioners has by now become indefinite,” said Robertson in an opinion issued in December 2005. “This indefinite imprisonment at Guantanamo Bay is unlawful.”

At a hearing prior to his ruling, Judge Robertson had suggested that he might order the Uighurs released temporarily into the United States. But his final ruling found, instead, that he lacked the legal authority to remedy the Uighurs’ plight. “The question,” he wrote, “is whether the law gives me the power to do what I believe justice requires. The answer, I believe, is no.”

Winning in principle but losing in practice, the Uighurs filed an emergency appeal to the Supreme Court. It was a long-shot effort, given that the case was still pending in the lower courts, and in April the Supreme Court declined to consider the appeal. The case was due to be heard by a federal appellate court last Monday, but, just days in advance of the hearing, the two plaintiffs (and three others) were released to Albania.

The Albanian Solution?

While five Uighurs have left, ten other Uighurs cleared for release remain at Guantanamo. And the Uighurs are not the only detainees who cannot return home. There are three others — a Russian, an Algerian and an Egyptian — who have been found not to be “enemy combatants” yet who remain incarcerated.

Indeed, nearly 30 percent of the detainees at Guantanamo – about 141 men — have been cleared to leave, but still remain. For many, the U.S. government knows that conditions are unsuitable at home. Dozens of detainees have filed motions seeking advance notice of any transfer, seeking to challenge their return on the ground that they might face torture.

So what are the options for detainees who cannot return home? There is the Albanian solution – find a country that, for humanitarian or other reasons, is willing to give them a safe haven. But that may not work in every case.

More from Joanne Mariner

WIKIPEDIA: The Uyghur (also spelled Uygur, Uighur, Uigur; Uyghur: ئۇيغۇر; simplified Chinese: ; traditional Chinese: ; pinyin: Wéiwú’ěr) are a Turkic people of Central Asia. Today Uyghurs live primarily in the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region (also known by its controversial name East Turkistan or Uyghurstan).

There are Uyghur diasporic communities in Pakistan, Russia, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Mongolia, Uzbekistan, Germany and Turkey and a smaller one in Taoyuan County of Hunan province in south-central China.[3]

Historically the term “Uyghur” was applied to a group of Turkic-speaking tribes that lived in the Altay Mountains. Along with the Göktürks (Kokturks) the Uyghurs were one of the largest and most enduring Turkic peoples living in Central Asia.

In modern usage, “Uyghur” refers to settled Turkic urban-dwellers and farmers of Kashgaria and Jungaria who follow traditional Central Asian practices, as distinguished from nomadic Turkic populations in Central Asia. The Bolsheviks reintroduced the term “Uyghur” to replace the previously used Turki. The Soviets first used “Uyghur” in 1921 during a meeting of Turkic leaders in Tashkent. This meeting established the Revolutionary Uyghur Union (Inqilawi Uyghur Itipaqi), a communist nationalist organization that opened underground sections in principal cities of Kashgaria and was active until 1926, when the Soviets recognized the Sinkiang Provincial Government and concluded trade agreements with it. Comintern’s structure included an Uyghur section. There is some evidence that Uyghur students and merchants living in Russia had already embraced the name prior to this date, drawing on Russian studies that claimed a linkage between the historical khanate and Xinjiang’s current inhabitants.

Today, Uyghurs live mainly in Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region, China, where they are the largest ethnic group, together with Han Chinese, Hui, Uzbeks, Kazakhs, Kyrgyz and Russians. Thousands of Uyghurs also live in Kazakhstan and Kyrgyzstan. “Xinjiang”, meaning “New Frontier”, is the official Chinese name of the Autonomous Region.

Orkhon Uyghur

Uyghur history can be divided into four distinct phases: Pre-Imperial (300 CE-630 CE), Imperial (630-840 CE), Idiqut (840-1209 CE), and Mongol (1209-1600 CE), with perhaps a fifth modern phase running from the death of the Silk Road in 1600 CE until the present. Uyghur history is the story of an obscure nomadic tribe from the Altai Mountains rising to challenge the Chinese Empire and ultimately becoming the diplomatic arm of the Mongol invasion.

Like Tibetans in Tibet, Uighurs have historically been the predominant ethnic group in Xinjiang, which is officially known as the Xinjiang Uighur Autonomous Region. In both Tibet and Xinjiang, indigenous groups have chafed at the arrival of large numbers of Han Chinese, the country’s predominant ethnic group, who have migrated to western regions with strong government support.

Uighurs, like Tibetans, have complained that recent Han arrivals now dominate their local economies, even as the Han-run local governments insert themselves deeper into schools and religious practices to weed out cultural practices that officials fear might reinforce a separate ethnic or religious identity.

We, as Americans, have a lot to answer for. The Rule of Law that has made America an example for Democracy, has been made dirty by the Bush Administration. Cherry picking which laws suit him, and making up laws when none are available to meet his needs, this administration has dismantled America. Profit motive has gone far enough for the select few. There are too many disenfranchised as a result of Bush’s disgusting policies. The more he resurrects the 9/11 catastrophe as an excuse, the more I have doubts about the real origins of that day.

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