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Uyghur News
19-03-09, 19:05
From Enemy Combatant to American Immigrant

Yesterday, Attorney General Holder said that some of the current Guantanamo detainees may be released in the United States. Press reports indicate that Holder and the Obama administration are considering releasing some or all of the Uighur detainees at Guantanamo onto U.S. soil. That would be a mistake.

There are currently 17 Uighurs held at Guantanamo. Five others were previously sent to Albania. All 22 of the Uighurs are openly opposed to the Chinese government, but claim that they have no animosity for America. Before the Obama administration dropped the “enemy combatant” label altogether, the government decided that the Uighurs did not satisfy the definition of an “enemy combatant.”

It is not entirely clear why. The Uighur detainees were initially classified as enemy combatants during hearings at Guantanamo and then, only later, the classification was dropped. It may be that the politics of Guantanamo (including pressure from various anti-Gitmo groups, and pro-Chinese opposition sentiment) played a role in that decision. It is also likely that the government thought it was not worth fighting in the courts after judges decided the Uighurs did not meet the enemy combatant standard. (In my view, the opinions that have been issued thus far ignore a wealth of publicly-available information.)

Let’s be clear on the Uighur detainees: None of them are first-order threats. None of them should be counted among the “worst of the worst” detained by American forces, either at Guantanamo or abroad. We are not talking about terrorists of the same caliber as Khalid Sheikh Mohammed. It is also clear that some detainees who posed a more serious threat to national security have already been released or transferred. The only reason the Uighurs are still at Guantanamo is because the Bush administration could not safely transfer them back to China. There were and are human rights concerns. The Uighur detainees probably would have received rough treatment, or possibly even been executed.

Given all that, however, it is mistake to say the Uighur detainees pose no threat whatsoever. In brief, here are four reasons why. (You can also read my previous reporting on this topic here and here.)

First, the Uighur detainees are alleged, for good reasons, to be members or associates of the Eastern Turkistan Islamic Movement (ETIM). The ETIM is a designated terrorist organization affiliated with al Qaeda.

There is sound evidence that the Uighur detainees are affiliated with the ETIM. For example, most of the detainees have made admissions during their tribunals and hearings at Guantanamo that tie them to the group. The ETIM is a jihadist organization and not part of some noble anti-China resistance. So, even if you have sympathy for the Chinese government’s opposition (as I do), including other Uighur organizations, the Uighur detainees at Guantanamo are not part of any legitimate, anti-Chinese government organization that deserves our support. The ETIM is an ideological cousin of al Qaeda that seeks to establish a radical Islamist state throughout South and Central Asia.

Second, many of the Uighur detainees have freely admitted during their tribunals and hearings at Guantanamo that they were trained by two known terrorists: Hasan Mahsum and Abdul Haq.

Mahsum was killed in Waziristan in 2003. Haq is still active. Neither Mahsum nor Haq can be considered legitimate freedom fighters. Open source accounts, as well as the testimony of knowledgeable experts, indicate that both Haq and Mahsum had ties to senior al Qaeda terrorists, including Osama bin Laden and Abu Zubaydah. Mahsum operated in the Mullah Omar’s Kabul for years and received the Taliban’s support repeatedly.

Third, the Uighur detainees’ training took place at a camp in Tora Bora, Afghanistan -– a known stronghold for al Qaeda and the Taliban.

There is no dispute over the fact that the Uighur detainees were at Tora Bora both before and after 9/11. You will recall that Tora Bora became the fallback zone for retreating jihadist forces after the U.S.-led invasion of Afghanistan. Most, if not all, of the Uighur detainees fled Tora Bora for Pakistan, where they were picked up. Some have tried to argue that there is no proof that the Taliban and/or al Qaeda sponsored the Tora Bora camp. But this is sheer nonsense. It is difficult to believe that the ETIM could have operated inside the heart of Taliban country without at least the acquiescence of senior Taliban and al Qaeda members. And there is evidence that the Tora Bora camp was sponsored by them.

Fourth, the Uighur detainees’ training makes them a potential threat not just to the Chinese government/military forces.

The ETIM has openly targeted and threatened civilians, as it did last year during the Chinese Olympics. In a publicly-released video, an ETIM member stood in front of al Qaeda’s black flag as he threatened anyone who attended the Olympics. The ETIM has also executed terrorist bombings against civilian targets inside China. ETIM trainees have fought alongside Taliban forces in Afghanistan on a number of occasions. They have also been used to buttress other al Qaeda-allied jihadist forces throughout Central Asia, including in Kyrgyzstan, Uzbekistan, and Tajikistan.

There have been some attempts to dismiss the training the Uighur detainees received as harmless. But, as pointed out above, it was conducted by known terrorists. Moreover, it is likely that the training included not only rudimentary military training, but also ideological indoctrination as well. By and large, the Uighur detainees appear to have been fresh recruits who arrived in Afghanistan during the spring and summer of 2001. Many of them were at the camp for at least a few months as of 9/11. There is no telling where they would have ended up.

It is understandable that the Obama administration would want to resolve the Uighur detainees’ cases. It is also understandable that people do not want to just lock them up and throw away the key.

But releasing them onto U.S. soil is not the answer.

Posted by Thomas Joscelyn on March 19, 2009 02:30 PM

http://www.weeklystandard.com/weblogs/TWSFP/2009/03/from_enemy_combatant_to_americ.asp