View Full Version : Reflections from the Guantanamo Looking Glass-by Sabin Willett

15-12-08, 13:35
America Unbecoming:
Reflections from the Guantanamo Looking Glass

Owen M. Kupferschmid Lecture
Boston College Law School
November 25, 2008

In Guantanamo’s mirror, we can see our own reflection. I saw it the first time I ever met Abdulnasser, and the last time I was with Huzaifa. I fancy I saw it again yesterday, in a crowded courtroom in Washington, D.C.

You can see it too. Just this fall you could have caught a glimpse, in a school nearby, where the fifth graders were giving their travelogue reports. They had picked states, and chosen points of interest. Young Annie had chosen Hawaii. Among the points of interest: Pearl Harbor. Her teacher, my wife, asked her why.

“Because,” said Annie, “that’s where 9/11 happened.”

Before you dismiss this as life in the suburban bubble story, stop and think. Annie reminds us of something every student of the holocaust knows. People do forget. And they forget very quickly. In Annie’s life, 9/11 was a very long time ago. Two presidential cycles from now, she’ll be eligible to vote.

Annie isn’t that much different adult Americans. We haven’t even left Iraq, and most of us have quite forgotten why we went there. Our nature is to look forward. Behind us, a confusion of history, involving bad things that happened sometime, somewhere, for reasons we can’t recall exactly.

People do forget -- unless we remind them.

Scholars that you are, I wonder if even you have forgotten a certain Christmas Day in our history. A ragged army had stumbled to the riverbank. They were whipped, and tired and hungry. It was snowing. The euphoria of the previous July was a distant memory. And that night their young commander, who was on that day eight years younger than I am tonight, staged an audacious crossing. Remember yet? He surprised the enemy garrison.

And took prisoners. Should he put them to the sword? Flog them to find General Cornwallis’ plans? What would General George Washington do with his enemy combatants at Trenton on the day after Christmas, 1776?

These questions have been with us since the beginning.

Next time someone tells you we are in a new paradigm, remember General Washington, on a snowy December morning, in the first year of this republic.

The first time I ever met Abdulnasser was August 30, 2006. He was chained to the floor of an interrogation cell. And the last time I saw Huzaifa Parhat was last month, five months after a court had ordered his release, when he passed me a note through the fence. For his son, who is ten years old. Each of these men is at Guantanamo tonight.

I will come to them by and by. But I can’t begin without a look in the glass closer to home, just across the river in fact, at that other law school. Professor Alan Dershowitz, the former civil libertarian and expositor of a favorite hypothetical. You know it as the ticking time bomb scenario. Here’s how it goes:

We know a bomb is somewhere near Times Square.
We know it is a weapon of mass destruction.
We know it’s …. ticking.
The Problem is, we don’t know where the bomb is.
There’s more:
We have in our possession, Ahmed.
He knows where the bomb is.
We know that he knows where the bomb is.

Such a lot of things we know! How do we know these things without knowing the one useful one? That’s the thing about law school hypotheticals. There’s no rule that says they have to be rooted in reality.

The hypothetical is going to ask whether to torture Ahmed, so he’ll tell us where the bomb is. Having adopted the premise that Ahmed is psychotic, complicit in an imminent mass murder, we will ignore all historical experience by supposing that torturing him will yield reliable information – and all before this week’s episode ends.

Why do brilliant people like Professor Dershowitz talk seriously about objectively stupid hypotheticals like this? Let’s ask an amoral question. Will torture get Ahmed to tell us where the bomb is?

Well, we know of an actual prisoner, who, under torture, confessed to his involvement in a plan to explode germ weapons in cities and murder millions of people.

His name wasn’t Ahmed. It was Frank.

Colonel Frank Schwable, First Marine Air Wing, United States Marine Corps. Shot down over North Korea in 1952. Oh yes – North Korea. You think we dreamed these techniques up? No, we went to the experts. Schwable was not beaten. His North Korean captors used methods that became a staple of Guantanamo -- humiliation, sleep deprivation, and most important, the intense isolation which goes on in Guantanamo’s Camp 6 even tonight.

Schwable wrote a lengthy confession about the U.S. germ warfare plot. It was all fiction, of course. Later, he said:

You sit there and you just think ... you grasp at anything your mind can concoct ... your judgment becomes warped .... You get a feeling of utter, hopeless, despair." He added: "I want to re-emphasize that I did not undergo physical torture. Perhaps I would have been more fortunate if I had, because people nowadays seem to understand that better … Mine was the more subtle kind of torment. That is a little bit harder, I am afraid, for people to understand."

On November 30, 1953, Henry Cabot Lodge went to the floor of the United Nations to denounce this as a “step straight back to the jungle."

But that’s Korea. That’s ancient history -- 9/11 changed everything, it’s a new paradigm, who needs history! Right?

How about recent history? Not so long ago they sent a man called Ibn Sheikh al-Libi to Egypt, and tortured him. Like Colonel Schwable, he figured out what his captors wanted to hear. So he told us all about the weapons of mass destruction ... in Iraq.

Torture hypotheticals might be harmless if they were merely stupid. But it isn’t that simple. When prominent intellectuals like Dershowitz and Yoo and public servants like the attorney general become apologists for official cruelty, when they answer the question “May we torture?” with, “It depends what you mean by torture,” then “It depends” is passed from the policymakers to the generals, and from the generals to the colonels, and from the colonels to the platoon commanders, and so on until “It depends” falls into the lap of a 20-year-old Marine specialist serving in Afghanistan in 2002, who decides to string up by his arms at the US Air Base at Bagram a young Afghan called Dilawar.

The Marine knew there was a weapon of mass destruction somewhere too, and that Dilawar knew about it. Or something. So Dilawar hung, Christlike, by his wrists upon a wall, and called out to God as they beat him, until, on December 10, 2002, Dilawar was dead.

And now it wasn’t a hypothetical any more.

Americans did this. People with uniforms on, and our flag on the uniforms. You did this. I did this.

It turns out that Dilawar was a taxi driver. The only bomb he knew about was the ancient Mercedes diesel he drove for fares.

His brother came to Bagram and took the body away to the Afghan village where Dilawar had lived with his father and mother and brothers and his wife and his two-year-old daughter. They tried to clean the body up to make it decent for burial. They wept and asked God to make sense of this for them, but He couldn’t. He couldn’t, but I can.

It all comes of hypotheticals.

So let’s have no more hypotheticals this evening. Let’s be done with euphemisms too. Tonight we won’t call torture, “enhanced interrogation,” or a prison a “detention facility.” Let’s not flinch tonight. And in particular, what do we see in there when we look for the Uighurs, now in their seventh year at Guantanamo Bay?

The Uighurs come from a part of central Asia the Chinese call Xinjiang, and natives call East Turkestan. It was overrun by Mao Tse Tung in 1949, and ever since, Uighur poets have sung, and Uighur philosophers have dreamed of a free state. In Beijing the party bosses call this “splittism.” It is a crime. They amended the translation soon after 9/11, and began to call their separatists, “terrorists.”

The State Department reports were grim. Torture, mass executions, beatings were common. Enforced abortions. Splitting of families. In 1997, the Chinese crushed an uprising in Ghulja City, and in the years following, young men streamed out to neighboring countries. Among them, a new father named Huzaifa Parhat, and a younger bachelor called Abdulnasser. In 2001, they found themselves in a Uighur village in Afghanistan. There was a firearm in this village, and the men learned how to clean and assemble it. They took target practice. All things you can do legally in America. In pre-war Afghanistan, you would have been hardpressed to find a village without firearms. Walk into a restaurant in Kabul, you’d find AK-47s hanging on the coatrack. Mainly they wanted to find a way from stateless Afghanistan to some country that would take Uighurs in. Many dreamed of America -- the antithesis of communist China.

Then we started bombing. The men fled to Pakistan. America was dropping flyers – Secretary Rumsfeld they fell like snowflakes in December in Chicago – offering bounties. Bounty hunters turned the Uighurs in for $5,000 a head, we believe, quite a lot of money in that part of the world.

They were shipped to the US Air Base at Kandahar, Afghanistan in January, 2002. Then in May shipped on Guantanamo, where the Uighurs has been ever since.

A point of reference – if you are finishing up your law school career at BC this year, think back to your junior year – of high school. Remember? That’s how long they’ve been at Guantanamo.

For two years, they were held without any kind of process at all. In mid-2004, the Supreme Court ruled that they might file habeas corpus petitions.

The Defense Department hastily convened military panels to review status. The rules were remarkable. The prisoner would never see or be able to respond to any evidence. The panel itself wouldn’t see evidence of innocence unless the Pentagon decided to give it to them. So far as we can tell, the military never actually offered a witness, or a piece of evidence, ever, not one, when a prisoner was present. They read out statements such as “You fled US bombing from Afghanistan,” and asked the prisoners if they had anything to say for themselves. Then they excused them. After that, it is all classified, except that at the end of it, they pronounced them, “enemy combatants.”

Were these military proceedings good enough? Attorney General Gonzalez said they were. The courts weren’t sure. They asked for briefs and more briefs, and nice questions went up on appeal, and then Congress wrote a statute in 2005, and more briefs went up, on even nicer questions, about whether the 2005 bill applied to old cases or only new, and meanwhile, no one had any hearing in court on the facts, and men rotted in the cages at Guantanamo, and in June, 2006, despairing of American justice, three of them took their own lives. While this played out, Abdulnasser and Huzaifa remained at Guantanamo.

Finally on September 29, 2006 Congress abolished habeas corpus for these people. That’s good enough for America, said 51 senators, including, I should point out, Gregg of New Hampshire, Collins of Maine and Lieberman of Connecticut. The only review left would be the Detainee Treatment Act, which limits the court to this question: when the Defense Department determined Abdulnasser and Huzaifa were enemy combatants, did it follow its own procedures? Last summer the Supreme Court struck that law down as unconstitutional, in the famous case of Boumediene v. Bush. But that was two years later.

My chapter in this dispiriting history began early in 2005, when our law firm took the first two Uighur cases. A strange thing had happened in their panels. The military said Adel and Abu Bakker weren’t enemy combatants at all. But they couldn’t be released to China where they’d be tortured. So they were left to rot with the others.

At the time, we had no way of knowing this. The government kept it secret from the court, and we didn’t learn of it until July, 2005, when at last we met them at the base. We filed motions -- the usual lawyer thing. Three days before Christmas, 2005, District Judge James Robertson ruled the imprisonment of Adel and Abu Bakker was illegal. But, he said, I am powerless to remedy it, since I cannot order their release into the U.S. Case dismissed. There is a heartbreak at the heart of things, as Virgil says.

I have a partner who says, “Nuts. At the heart of things is the right of appeal!” So up we went. An argument was scheduled for May 8, 2006, a Monday. On Friday, DOJ called me. Your clients are gone, they said. We’ve sent them to Albania.

We learned from Adel and Abu Bakker about Huzaifa, Abdulnasser, and the other Uighurs, who had been their companions. The facts were the same. The government admitted Adel and Abu Bakker were not the enemy, but said that Huzaifa and Abdulnasser were. The only difference? Different military panels had reviewed their cases.

So we filed petitions for them. Now by this time the DoD had lost patience with us. We were filing all these papers saying there were innocent men at Guantanamo. So they said, you can’t visit your client. You need his written permission.

We asked, how we could get his permission without seeing him?
That’s your problem, they said.

So we went to a judge, who ordered them to let us visit, and they appealed. So we went to another judge, who ordered the visit. That all took thirteen months. So it wasn’t until August 30, 2006, that I saw Abdulnasser for the first time.

Now imagine, if you can possibly take yourself out of this comfortable room, in this well appointed law school here in our prosperous Commonwealth, imagine what that meeting in Echo 1 must have been like for Abdulnasser. He had been sold to Americans almost five years before. More than four years before, he had been sent to Guantanamo. More than three years before, American interrogators had told him, “Congratulations, You’re innocent, you’ll be leaving soon.” More than two years before, the Supreme Court said he had a right to a hearing before a judge. He’d never had one. Two months before, three Guantanamo prisoners, in despair over the endless imprisonment, had killed themselves. And now he was in a small box, chained to the floor, listening to another American explain to him that he was his lawyer. Honest.

Abdulnasser would shortly begin his sixth year of isolation from the world. He was cut off from family, freedom; from work, from love, from life, from all news of the world and all life of the mind. Most people who have endured this have become depressed. In the clinical sense. Angry, paranoid, in utter despair. They don’t know if we really are their lawyers. Some won’t shake our hands. Some won’t see us at all.

But Abdulnasser’s different. He’s a young man with a wisp of a beard, and warm brown eyes, and a gentle, soft-spoken manner. He smiled at us. He shared the tea we had brought. He asked us thoughtful questions about the American legal system. We thought it was a good meeting. Right up until the end.

We only had until noon. At a quarter to twelve, he asked what the “downside” of pursuing his habeas case might be. To a man still imprisoned three years after being told by interrogators, ‘Congratulations, you’re innocent,” American justice was pure fiction. People who believed it meant anything in the real world were delusional. And Abdulnasser is not delusional. But he thought his case might be the cause of his jailors’ increasing hostility and the worsening of his living conditions, specifically, the loss of one of his most valuable possessions – something that makes a real difference in his life – his bedsheet.

It was noon. The MP arrived to order us out. Abdulnasser said something to our translator, and her face fell.

“What?” I asked.

Sir,” said the MP, “Time’s up.”

“What did he say?” I pressed Rushan.

“I’ll tell you outside.”

“Sir,” said the MP.

Then Abdulnasser spoke to Rushan the only sharp words I ever heard from him.

“Give us a minute,” I said to the MP, “for Christ’s sake. It took thirteen months to get this meeting.”

“Sir, you need to leave now, Sir.” said the MP.

Outside Rushan told me. “He said he wants you to stop. Stop the habeas case. He said very firmly that I must translate that and be sure you understood it. When I didn’t translate that, he knew.”

Guantanamo’s looking glass – there come moments when we see so clearly. I stood there in the gravel yard outside Camp Echo, in the searing Cuban heat. I realized that after four and a half years at Guantanamo, Abdulnasser had reached a logical conclusion. Bedsheets are useful, and real. And the American justice system isn’t worth a bedsheet.

It would take four months and eighteen days to see Abdulnasser again and beg him to reconsider. And all through that time, I never suspected – and I think he never suspected – how much worse things were going to get.

In December, we filed under the new Detainee Treatment Act, urging release for the other Uighurs. Abdulnasser’s name wasn’t on it: as he instructed. Then I went to see him again on January 17.

I was unprepared for that meeting.

About a month before, he and the other guys had been sent to Camp 6, the brand spanking new KBR supermax. Ever since, he’d been held in solitary. His cell was solid metal. There is no way to communicate with the guys in the next cells. No window, no sunlight, no fresh air. Nothing to do or read. For two hours in twenty four, which might be during day or night, he was shackled and led to a 3 x 4 meter space, surrounded by concrete walls two stories high. In effect, a chimney. If it were daytime, he could see sky above the wire mesh on top of the chimney. If he were really lucky, the sun. In a month, that happened twice. There are five such spaces, and for this two hour period, he could talk through a fence to the guys in the other four spaces.

This was known as, “rec time.”

For the other 22 hours, he was entirely alone. He ate alone. He prayed alone. At night he lay alone listening to the roar of the HVAC. The only light was fluorescent. There was no difference between morning, afternoon, night; no difference between one hour and the next, between today and tomorrow, between yesterday and forever. No one touched this man, except MPs wearing rubber gloves. Alone. A man we said was innocent, five years ago.

Have you ever been alone for 22 hours? I mean really alone. With the shades pulled, and no phone or TV or radio or computer or I-Pod or book or magazine or companion. Try it. But please, only for a day. After that, the studies say, people soon begin to go mad.

“It is like we are underground here,” he said to me. In youth he’d seen a film once about a concentration camp, a place where, he said, “once you enter, you never come out again.” That is how he thought of his life. That he was already entombed.

They sent all the Uighurs to Camp 6. Another client told me he was hearing voices. When we met him, his foot tapped uncontrollably against the floor. His face was inexpressibly sad. He had only one question for me.

“Sabin, why do they hate us so much?”

Another man they sent to solitary was Huzaifa Parhat. You recall I was talking about that Detainee Treatment Act. Other lawyers, in the Boumediene case, would fight for the restoration of habeas corpus, until, two years later, the supreme court would hold that it was unconstitutional to eliminate habeas corpus. But back in 2006, we felt we had no choice but to try to win a case under the new act. The rules are loaded dice. No right to evidence, or even to see the government's evidence and respond to it. No lawyer. Hearsay is fine. Enemy combatant defined without reference to combat, or even to the enemy named by Congress. Simple, right? So we filed our DTA petition in December, 2006. And the first case to come up was Huzaifa’s.

Now the first question was, what was the record – the documents the court of appeals would review? The government said, "Its what we say it is.”

We had a different idea. We said, “we understand you’ve been attempting to resettle these men with our allies. So we think you ought to show us what you’ve said about them. We’re guessing that you aren’t telling Finland they are terrorists when you ask Finland to take them.”

The government said, “No way. The record is what we say it is.”

So we had briefs, arguments, the whole thing. In July, 2007, we won a great victory! The record was what we said. They moved to reconsider. In October we won a great victory! Denied! They moved for en banc" – review by the all ten judges of the court of appeals. Four more months of briefs. In February, 2008 we won a great victory! I asked for the record. They said, "No, we're appealing to the Supreme Court.

We never have gotten that record -- to this day. While this interesting bridge match went on --and on -- Huzaifa was in Camp 6. Wearing away. A strong man, quiet, you saw it in his eyes, that he was giving up, turning in, that he was shutting down.

For a year the government wouldn’t give us even its version of the record. At last on October 27 2007 they gave that to us, and we decided to go to court on their record.

And in June, 2008, we won. Parhat v. Gates, the first-ever test of the Administration's detention policy, conducted under a kangaroo statute, and the Administration lost, three to nothing. Now here is what they said. He is not the enemy, not on this record. They ordered that Parhat be released, transferred, or that the government promptly convene a new military panel, if it had any real evidence. Virgil's heartbreak again in that last option, but the government, with no evidence, waived it.

At the same time, the Supreme Court restored habeas corpus rights. And our court said, Huzaifa could go to his habeas corpus judge to get more prompt release. And there was no question the court would have the power to order him released.

So we went to the habeas judge. In September, the government responded, “all right, he’s not the enemy, none of the Uighurs are the enemy, after six years, and three years of stalling in litigation, we admit it. But they can’t leave Guantanamo to come here.”

Want to know why?

Because they don’t have visas.

Silly Uighurs. Why didn’t they bring visas with them, when we captured them, and chained them, and hooded them, and loaded them on a C-17, and flew them to a prison half way round the world. Serves them right!

So at last on October 7, we went to see his habeas judge, Ricardo Urbina, in Washington. He was a lion – and how he roared! “Have you not been trying to resettle these men abroad for four years? And you have no prospect of doing so today? Is there any evidence, any evidence at all that any of these men poses any risk if released here?” he demanded.

The government’s lawyer stammered. “Well, we don’t have any particular evidence with us today.”

“Enough!” he said, “Release them now. Bring them to my courtroom. Friday.” The room was packed with Uighur Americans. They wept, they applauded. Our hearts soared that day.

On October 9 the transport aircraft touched down at Gitmo’s air strip. The marshals climbed down the gangway to transfer them. They were hours away from freedom.

And then the court of appeals entered a stay. Don’t move the Uighurs until we review this.

Here is the sentence that the court of appeals wrote five months and five days ago. “We direct that the government release or transfer Parhat.” He’s at Guantanamo tonight.

What does Huzaifa think about all this? Look again into the glass with me.
One day in 2007 we went to see him to tell him about what was happening in court. He’d been in Camp 6 about a year then. That day it seemed like we had reached a kind of end point. Like he was letting go of the rope at last. He had concluded that he would never leave Guantanamo. He was shutting down. He wanted us to pass a message to his wife. He didn’t want her prison to be his. She should feel free to move on.

Yesterday I got another glimpse of us, closer to home. I went to the DC Circuit Court of Appeals to argue Huzaifa’s appeal. The courtroom was packed. The government deemed the case so important that they sent the Solicitor General of the United States to argue it. Three appellate judges took the bench. Here again was the government’s theory: Huzaifa and Abdulnasser can’t be released, because no one else will take them, and they don’t have visas.

Perhaps I should explain. We cannot send them to China, where they would be tortured, or worse. And no other country has agreed to take them. They’ve all read the government’s rhetoric about Guantanamo. They’ve all noticed that we’re not taking them. Why should they? The only place left, as Judge Urbina saw, is here, in the US. But to come here, you need a visa. Guess who gives out visas under the immigration laws? The President. So they have to stay at Guantanamo. Isn’t that a clever argument?

Now we pointed out -- they didn’t exactly come to our doorstep. They were bought for a bounty. And chained in a C-17. And flown to a prison against their will.

But you know what? At least one of those judges yesterday, there is no doubt in my mind, he agrees with the government. Another one, there is little doubt she agrees with us. The third judge I can’t read very well.

At our hearing yesterday, the government added a special twist to their theory. Since the Uighurs have been moved out of isolation and into a small camp of huts, they are not in prison any more. They are housed.

Is it a house? You be the judge. When I went there, they said the men had to be chained to the floor to meet privately with me, and I would not agree, so in the end we could only talk through a chain link fence, with armed guards nearby and a guard tower overhead. Sound like your house?

Huzaifa’s mother is not well. He wants to speak with her before she dies. He asked if we might arrange a telephone call. We requested that from the government. In June. They haven’t granted the request. Sound like a house?
The last time I saw him, Huzaifa had written a letter to his son. Expressing his love, his hopes, his wishes that the young man will study, and pray, and not forget him. His son is ten years old. He passed it to me through the fence.
The rules say that my notes have to be surrendered for review by the Department of Defense, and that mail cannot be passed through lawyers. So Huzaifa’s letter to his son I sitting in a file at the Pentagon. Sound like your house?

There’s Guantanamo’s mirror again.

You may have heard last week that a group of Bosnians got judgment that they are not enemy combatants either. One of them is that very famous fellow named Lakhdhar Boumediene, whose name is on the supreme court decision I told you about. Judge Leon announced his decision, and there was great elation in the courtroom in Washington.

Boumediene wasn’t there. He was at Guantanamo, where the Bosnians were watching the proceedings on a closed circuit television. The decision was read. And then the MPs switched off the television, and they took Boumediene back to his isolation cell in Camp 6, where he is tonight.

In the government’s view, it really doesn’t matter very much what courts do.
Now just this morning, you may have heard some news about a fellow called Hamdan. He was bin Laden’s driver. And there has been a lot of litigation about him. He was convicted of a minor war crime, and sentenced, and his sentence is about to run out. And so the news is that he is being shipped home to Yemen.
A bin laden associate, an al Qaeda associate, convicted by military commission, will go home. The Uighurs will stay. You will have to explain this to me, because I am a lawyer who has read all the books, and I cannot explain it to you.

On November 4 as a nation we looked into the glass, and thought we glimpsed something better. The better angel of our nature. Grew at last resolved enough to throw off the image that our leadership had framed us with – that we are a frightened, small people, that we can be spooked like a school of fish, that America, under attack for her values should surrender her values to defend the attack. And I think we said, and said loudly, and the youngest of us, the newest voters, said loudest of all, we are not the narrow-chested, puny little people you take us for. We are not panicked by ghost stories and mere words. We own this flag of ours, and we entrusted it to a president, and he raised it over places like Abu Ghraib and Guantanamo, and we mean to have our flag back now.

And so we are sending a new president to Washington. There is great hope for this new president. In my view, perhaps, too much hope; we are at our best when we take the nation’s future into our own hands, when we act like stewards of our republic, and we are at our worst, as we were after 9/11, when we assume that someone else will tend our garden for us. We who want Guantanamo closed, we who want never again for our flag to fly over torture chambers, we must not rest now, and we must never forget later.

But perhaps a better day will dawn. Perhaps our forty-fourth President will have some of the wisdom of our first. He had no Geneva Conventions on that snowy Christmas of 1776, he had no attorney general to advise him. And he didn’t have much time to make a decision about how to deal with his captured Hessian enemies. His crisis was more severe than any we can imagine -- the fledgling enterprise out of money, almost out of men, with only faint hopes. There was every incentive to drop principle. Every incentive but one -- the high sense that if this enterprise were worth the fighting, then its darkest moment must be where it showed its greatest honor. That as Commander he must ask not, what can I get a way with, but what does honor demand? And so General Washington issued an order about those enemy combatants.

“Treat them humanely,” he said to the adjutant. “Let no dishonor come to our enterprise.”

Worth remembering this November, two centuries on. If we look in the glass, if we search it without flinching, we see great dishonor, and yet a glimpse of something older, and stronger, and better. Can we recover that again? We glimpsed something on November 4 -- was it shadow, or our truer reflection? The future will tell. For tonight, the Uighurs remain at Guantanamo.

Thank you.

15-12-08, 17:41
Hi Sabin,
Thank you very much for standing for us! Especially, for innocent people! God bless you and your family!

15-12-08, 18:35
Sabin is a great hero of all Uyghur people! Thank you so much for everything you are doing in the court and in the public for those unfortunate victims in Guantanamo bay!

13-03-09, 13:32
Turdi Ghoja
Guest Posts: n/a

Out of Guantanamo, Are We There Yet?


For the past couple of months the Uyghurs have become the focus of most stories about Guantanamo in the press, particularly after Obama administration took office. Press in general has been sympathetic to the Uyghur inmates there. It is because people realized that Uyghurs do not have any quarrel with the West and unlike some Muslims from the Middle East they do not harbor hostility to America or West, in fact most Uyghurs are quite pro-American. As a result, they are uniquely positioned to benefit from new administration’s policy on this issue. They could be released any day now. Without a doubt, the positive progress in their case would not have been possible without the selfless efforts of their lawyers, particularly Sabin Willett, interpreters, international human rights organizations and Uyghurs who care about them. Taking this opportunity, I would like to thank these people, especially the lawyers led by Mr.Willett. They served, reflective of the true American spirit, as a lightening rod of justice for those hopeless and helpless in the dark.

As some people pointed out here, this case is as much about those 17 people at Guantanamo as it about the 10 million Uyghurs in East Turkistan. The Chinese wants to get them back to send an intimidation message to the Uyghur population. They want us to feel that the world does not care about Uyghurs no matter what the Chinese do to them. The outcome of this case will defeat the Chinese plan and give a new start in life to those 17 and hope for those 10 million. Therefore, the outcome of this case has tremendous historical significance for the Uyghur nation. I am proud to have Mr. Sabin Willett and his associates as part of this important history of our people.

Serving in a maximum-security prison for 7 years for just being at the wrong place at the wrong time is not easy say the least. That experience must have been quite frustrating and confusing for them. Particularly, the last couple of months have been a roller coaster for them. One day they are almost free, the next day are not, then almost free then are not, then are then not. I have become dizzy watching myself. I am sure they are grateful that they are not sent back to China. But, they must have expected more than that from America. I understand how people back home feel about America: a land of justice, democracy and freedom. I imagine those 17 Uyghurs had the same image of America when they started this ordeal. I would not be surprised if their experience of the past 7 years has shattered that image. What makes it even more confusing and harder for them to understand what is happening is their social background in China where there is only one voice and one choice on everything and it belongs to the government. They cannot possibly understand that America is a different country with plural power centers; they could not possibly understand the difference between the executive branch, the government, and the judicial system; they could not possibly understand the power and influence of the press and ordinary individuals. Where they came from these concepts do not exist and everything happens the way the government wants to. It takes real life experience in this society for them to understand that regardless of their terrible experience in the past seven years at the hands of the American Government the America they imagined before still exists and that American is much more than just the Government, it is a place where people have rights, where people can criticize and challenge the government without fear just as their lawyers have, where the press can have a different voice than that of the government as it has now on their case. They have yet to learn that America belongs to people, not the government and that majority of the people did not approve they way the government treated them at Guantanamo. This process of reconciliation with their past requires help from the Uyghur communities. Comprehending what those American lawyers and human rights campaigners did for them and what the press said about them will be a first step in this direction. I hope America will give these 17 men a chance to restore its image in their hearts and ignite hope for the 10 million back home.
I am proud to be an American! Yes, I have become a citizen recently!!! I am sure they will be too one day if given a chance.


13-03-09, 16:03
It is very touching. Sabin and other lawyers have been working hard for these innocent men. Rushen has been assisting the lawyers non-stop for many years. We thank you for all your efforts!