View Full Version : GTMO Uyghur Counsel Respond to Misinformation in Certain Press Reports

18-05-09, 06:07


Eric A. Tirschwell
Kramer Levin Naftalis & Frankel LLP
1177 Avenue of the Americas
New York, New York 10036

Susan Baker Manning
Bingham McCutchen
2020 K Street, N.W.
Washington, D.C. 20036

George Clarke
Miller & Chevalier Chtd
655 15th St., N.W., Ste. 900
Washington, D.C. 20005

Elizabeth P. Gilson
383 Orange Street
New Haven, Connecticut 06511

J. Wells Dixon
Center for Constitutional Rights
666 Broadway, 7th Floor
New York, New York 10012

In response to recent public attacks and baseless accusations against the 17 Uighur detainees in Guantánamo, and in order to set the record straight, their counsel are releasing the following statement and review of the relevant facts.

Eric Tirschwell, a former federal prosecutor and one of the attorneys for the Uighurs, offers the following statement:

“Claims that our clients are terrorists or enemy combatants or present a threat to this country were abandoned by the Bush Administration and rejected by the courts. Those who ignore the record and repeat these baseless and slanderous accusations betray the most basic principles of fairness and due process for which America is supposed to stand. As a former federal prosecutor who spent years zealously pursuing actual criminals who presented real threats, including in the weeks and months following 9/11, I am particularly outraged by these irresponsible and slanderous attacks against 17 men who are not accused and certainly have never been convicted of committing or even contemplating any criminal act, and yet have been imprisoned at Guantánamo Bay for almost eight years. It was the Bush Justice Department that conceded in open court last fall that the Defense Department had determined that the 17 Uighurs ‘should be free to go’ and it is a moral and legal imperative that this happen as quickly as possible.”

The Uighurs are not terrorists or terrorist sympathizers.

None of the Uighurs has ever engaged in hostilities against the United States. None has even been accused of contemplating hostiles against the United States. This is undisputed.

The Uighurs are not terrorists. None is accused of ever engaging in or planning any sort of terrorist activity. This too is undisputed.

None of the Uighurs has undergone terrorist training. Some of them were accused by the Bush administration of having obtained “military training” because they were once shown how to break down and reassemble a single Kalashnikov rifle while living in a Uighur expatriate village in Afghanistan. Some, but not all, fired two or three bullets at a target. To call that “terrorist training” is absurd (it is not even sufficient to be “military training”). The men were not trained to attack civilians or trained in methods to use violence against civilians; they fired a rifle at a target. If that happened in this country, which it routinely does, it would be protected by the Second Amendment. That it happened in a dangerous country like Afghanistan that had no effective government in 2001, and where Kalashnikovs outnumber adult men, is utterly unremarkable.

None of the Uighurs were terrorists in training at a terrorist training camp. None has ever been accused of having committed or training for a single act of violence on any civilian. But they had seen the Chinese government torture their parents, shut down their houses of worship, control their businesses and force abortions on their wives and sisters. They had seen relatives dragged away to prison at gunpoint. And so they wanted to be ready to defend themselves. Not to cause harm to civilians. Not to harm Americans or other westerners. Not to wage jihad. Not to make common cause with al Qaeda, whom they had never heard of. But to be ready to defend themselves against armed, brutal, communist Chinese oppressors. Now, eight years of imprisonment later, they want nothing more than to start over in another country and live in peace.

Most of the Uighurs had never even heard of the East Turkistan Islamic Movement (ETIM) until they were questioned about it by U.S. interrogators. Nor had they heard of al Qaeda.

Although there is considerable debate amongst Uighur scholars as to whether ETIM even exists, the Bush Administration didn’t even regard the group as a terrorist organization until many months after the 17 Uighurs arrived in Guantánamo. The State Department classified the group as such for the first time in September 2002 shortly after then Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage returned from a diplomatic trip to Beijing, during which he sought China’s support for the Bush administration’s plans to invade Iraq. The 17 Uighurs in Guantanamo have been paying the price for this cynical quid pro quo ever since.

The Uighur men at Guantánamo object to the oppression of their people by the Chinese government, and to Chinese human rights abuses. So does the U.S. government.

Both the Bush administration and the courts long ago exonerated the Uighurs at Guantánamo.

The Bush Defense Department itself approved all of the Uighurs for release. Most of them were cleared for release six years ago, in 2003.

The only reason the Uighurs have been imprisoned for so long is that they cannot be lawfully returned to China because the State Department has rightly concluded that they would be tortured or killed there. Secretary of State Colin Powell stated in 2004 that the U.S. was “trying to find places for” the Uighur detainees but they “are not going back to China.” Other countries are unwilling to resettle the Uighurs for fear of damaging relations with China. China has put intense pressure on other countries not to grant them refuge, and the Bush administration refused to give them asylum here.

These men have been prisoners of politics. Continuing to imprison the Uighurs is a violation of the Constitution and the basic human rights upon which this country was founded.

The Uighur cases all have materially identical facts. Nevertheless, in 2006 the Bush Administration released five Uighurs to Albania, where they have been living peaceful, productive lives ever since. One was just granted permanent asylum in Sweden after the Swedish government concluded, after a thorough assessment, that he poses no danger to anyone.

In a unanimous decision, the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals rejected the government’s only theory for detaining the Uighurs and overturned the enemy combatant classification of Uighur Huzaifa Parhat. The Court noted that there was no evidence that Parhat had actually joined or was a member of ETIM and found no credible evidence that ETIM was associated with al Qaeda or the Taliban, or that ETIM had ever fought the United States.

The Bush administration eventually conceded that the decision in Parhat applied to all 17 Uighurs at Guantánamo and that none of them are enemy combatants. It made that concession in the fall of 2008, after imprisoning them for over seven years.

Following the government’s concession that none of the Uighurs are enemy combatants, the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia concluded that there is no lawful basis for imprisoning them and ordered their immediate release.

The U.S. District Court found that “[t]he government has not charged [any of the 17] with a crime and has presented no reliable evidence that they would pose a threat to U.S. interests.”

In October 2008, a senior lawyer from the Bush Justice Department announced in open court that the Department of Defense “has determined” that all 17 Uighurs in Guantánamo “should be free to go.”