View Full Version : Sabin Willet's comments on 17 GTMO uyghurs

30-10-08, 21:35
Attached is my column for Nov. 2008.




By Emanuel Margolis

Seventeen Uighurs have been imprisoned by American forces for more than six years at Guantanamo Bay. They have never been charged with a crime. The government has conceded that they are not enemy combatants.

They are in legal limbo. A federal judge ordered their release from detention in early October. But the jailhouse door remains closed for them because government attorneys obtained a stay from the Court of Appeals.

These cases represent a criminal defense lawyer’s worst nightmare, a flagrant example of prosecutorial abuse in the context of the Bush administration’s “global war on terrorism.” In the case of the Uighurs, it has reached a point of undisguised gaming of the system by U.S. government attorneys so as to keep exonerated prisoners in jail indefinitely.

Who are these Uighurs? They are a tiny ethnic Muslim population from the Xinjiang Uighur Autonomous Region in China. The Chinese Government has branded them as “terrorists” and cracked down on them with raids, detentions and court prosecutions aimed at stifling their political and religious views. Some were sentenced to long prison terms and a few were executed for “attempting to split the motherland.” Ironically, the Chinese Government in some cases used the “global war on terror” as a pretext for their actions.

The Uighurs were picked up in Pakistan by local villagers and sold in exchange for substantial bounties offered by U.S. forces following our invasion of Afghanistan in the fall of 2001. They were alleged to be “enemy combatants” who received weapons training at Al Qaeda-linked camps. However, no such evidence was ever produced and the government - - after years of litigation - - finally admitted that none of these prisoners are enemy combatants.

The head of the Uighur defense team is Attorney P. Sabin Willett, a partner with Bingham-McCutcheon in Boston. The Bingham firm represents nine of the seventeen Uighurs. Two of these detainees have been represented by Connecticut Attorney Beth Gilson of New Haven.

Beth sent me a letter from Attorney Willett, the likes of which I have never seen in my more than 50 years of practice. It is addressed to the Pentagon’s team of prosecutors on a first-name basis. Mr. Willett reminds them that they have conceded that the Uighurs are not enemy combatants and that they were freed by the habeas court and scheduled to be flown stateside to various refugee services in Washington, D.C. who were ready to receive them, only to have their release blocked by the government.

“Since then,” wrote Attorney Willett, “we have done everything we can to try and win that release again and we have failed. And you have positioned this shrewdly. You know it will take many months to get a decision. If we win you will ask for en banc review. And if we win that you will appeal for Supreme Court review. So you know and I know what is happening here. This won’t be over in one month, or in six. It will be years.”

The letter continues: “And you know another thing. No other country is ever going to take them. Not ever. Not after some genius decided, in your overnight stay papers, for the first time ever, anywhere, to call these people ‘terrorists.’ That the charge is false, that you have now backed away from it in your brief, that doesn’t matter. It will never happen now.” (emphasis added)
“It was never going to happen anyway. [The] State [Department] has been trying to settle this for four years. China has blocked it every-where. You know it will never happen. If you win your appeal, these men will spend the rest of their lives as prisoners in Guantanamo.”

Noting the fact that Americans don’t treat convicted criminals this way, and that we are bound by treaties not to treat prisoners of war in this manner, Mr. Willett asked if he could meet his clients “in the hut where we always meet. Station MP’s outside the hut as you always do. Just permit these men one shred of human dignity. Do not chain them to the floor.”

“And you said no.”

In total anger and frustration, the Uighurs’ counsel declared: “This isn’t about courts or who wins a motion. This is really about just who in the hell you people are. What you see when you look in the mirror . . . . who your clients are and what they see in the mirror. What kind of Americans treat innocent victims with this kind of reflexive degrading cruelty?”

I’m afraid that the answer to the question about “who your clients are” is painfully obvious.

It is us!