The Plight of the Gitmo Ulghurs

Some churches in Toronto banded together to sponsor Anwar Hassan, an ethnic Ulghur imprisoned at Guantanamo. The US has ruled that he’s not an enemy combatant, but he fears he’ll be persecuted if he returns to his original homeland of China.

The churches applied to sponsor Hassan as a refugee and support him for one year, to at least get him out of Gitmo. The process is underway.

Hassan was among 17 Uighurs captured in Pakistan in 2001 and then sold to US forces (the Gitmo detaines represent millions of dollars of investment; Pakistanis sold many men, both guilty and innocent, to US forces). Other Ulghurs were rounded up elsewhere. Hassan had been living in Afghanistan with thoughts (delusions, actually) of someday rising up against the Chinese government. He fled to Pakistan when the US bombed his village.

The US recognized early on that the Ulghurs had nothing to do with Al Qaeda. Initially, they were milked for information about China. Then, to gain Chinese support for the invasion of Iraq,the Pentagon declared that all of the Ulghurs were members of the East Turkestan Independence Movement (based on the Ulghurs’ name for their homeland), and were therefore terrorists. Chinese interrogators were even allowed to come to Guantanamo. 

And so, the innocent Ulghurs have languished in Gitmo for eight years. Several of them were declared “not enemy combatants,” but the Pentagon changed that to “No longer enemy combatants,” a way to cover themselves. 

The State Department has searched for a country to take in the Ulghurs, but can’t find any willing to suffer the displeasure of China. Several Ulghurs, three days before a US appeals court was scheduled to hear their case for wrongful imprisonment, were taken from Gitmo and deposited in a UN refugee camp in Albania. Yes, Albania. They had already been forcibly separated from their families. Now, how in the world do you get out of Albania?

The Ulghur commuity in the United States has offered to support the detainees with housing, language and job training, and whatever else they need. In October, a US federal court ordered that the Ulghurs be resettled in the US, but an appeals court (stocked with Bush appointees) overturned that decision, saying only the President had the authority to order their release.

The Bush Administration fought efforts to resettle the Ulghurs in the US, claiming they posed a threat to the US.

“I think it’s all about saving face,” says Sabin Willet, a US lawyer who has been working on behalf of the Ulghurs. “If these guys get to the United States, people are going to interview them and put them on television, and then Americans will find out who’s really been at Guantanamo, and that will shock them. Right now most Americans believe that people at Guantanamo must be bad guys. So I think the Bush administration is determined to keep that truth from the public.”

Certainly there ARE bad guys at Gitmo. But not all of them.

The Bible demands that Christians seek justice. I’m hoping my country can come through on this. When justice is brought to the innocent, God is pleased.

(There is a lot of information on the internet about the plight of the Ulghurs, including here and here.)

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