Innocent Uighurs Finally Leave Guantánamo after 12 Years

Thursday, January 02, 2014

The last members of an oppressed minority group from China held at Guantánamo Bay have been set free, ending their 12-year imprisonment.


Three Uighurs, a Turkic Muslim minority that has endured persecution in China, were released from the Cuban prison and flown to Slovakia.


Yusef Abbas, Saidullah Khalik, and Hajiakbar Abdulghuper were the last of 22 Uighurs captured in Pakistan in 2001 after they fled Afghanistan following the U.S. invasion. The men had been handed over to the U.S. military for a $5,000 bounty each.


The George W. Bush administration reportedly knew as early as 2003 that the Uighurs were not a threat to U.S. security. But the administration allegedly kept them at Guantánamo Bay in exchange for China’s cooperation at the United Nations to not interfere with the authorization of force against Iraq in 2003, the Uighurs claimed.


“It is especially heartbreaking that when the Uighurs were turned over to U.S. forces following the invasion of Afghanistan, they thought they had been saved,” the Center for Constitutional Rights, which represented the detainees, said in a statement. “They viewed America as the only superpower capable of standing up to China, and thought that they would be treated fairly and humanely. Sadly, they came to symbolize the tragedy of Guantánamo.”


China insisted the Uighurs were members of a terrorist organization, the East Turkistan Islamic Movement (ETIM).


But Sean Roberts, a professor at George Washington University, told Congress that most ETIM members were arrested for political dissent, not terrorism.


The Uighurs won a legal victory in federal court six years ago when U.S. District Judge Richard Urbina reviewed their petition for habeas relief. Urbina ordered the detainees to be freed and resettled in the United States. But an appellate court overruled his decision, leaving the Uighurs in limbo until the Obama administration convinced enough foreign governments to take them.

-Noel Brinkerhoff


To Learn More:

Guantanamo's Last Uighurs Freed to Slovakia (by Adam Klasfeld, Courthouse News Service)

U.S. Frees Last of the Chinese Uighur Detainees From Guantánamo Bay (by Charles Savage, New York Times)

The Case of the Unwanted Non-Terrorists (AllGov)


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