Wednesday, August 21, 2013

The Guantanamo Uighurs

The Uighur people are a Turkic ethnic group that predominantly lives in the Xinjiang region of China. Most Uighurs are Muslim. Many Uighurs want independence from China, a country that persecutes them. Twenty two Uighur men left China and traveled to Afghanistan where they were trained at a militant Uighur separatist training camp. The village that housed the training camp was bombed by the US military as part of the Afghan War in 2001. The men fled to Pakistan where Pakistani villagers took them in. The villagers then turned them over to the US in exchange for bounties offered for Al Qaeda and Taliban members.

By June 2002 the 22 Uighurs arrived at the US prison at Guantanamo Bay. None of them ever lifted a finger against the United States, the US government, or US forces. China demanded that they be repatriated to China. The US government did not extradite them out of concerns that they would be tortured or executed if they were returned. The question then became, where do we send them?

China pressured countries against taking the Guantanamo Uighurs. Five were sent to Albania in 2006. The Obama Administration planned to release two of the Uighurs in northern Virginia, where there is a Uighur community. Senate minority leader Mitch McConnell opposed the plan, saying, “By releasing trained terrorists into civilian communities in the United States, the administration will, by definition, endanger the American people.” In May 2009 Obama abandoned the plan. That decision made it much more unlikely that third countries would agree to take Guantanamo prisoners due to the US’s own unwillingness to do so. The decision made it significantly more difficult for Obama to close the prison as he had promised to do.

Four Uighurs were sent to Bermuda in June 2009, six were sent to Palau in October 2009, two were sent to Switzerland in March 2010, and two were sent to El Salvador in April 2012. Three Uighurs who declined to go to El Salvador remain at Guantanamo.

The Uighurs who went to Palau are running out of money but at least one Uighur in Albania seems to be doing fairly well.


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