View Full Version : Uighurs were cleared for release six years ago

14-06-09, 00:54
By Mikaela Ian Pearman

An Uighur man waits for customers to sell wool at Sunday Bazaar in Hotan, northwest China's Xinjiang Uighur Autonomous Region on in April 2008.
AP Photo/Eugene Hoshiko

Huzaifa Parhat, Abdul Semet, Abdul Nasser and Jalal Jalaladin are the four refugees sent from Guantánamo Bay to live in Bermuda.

They are ethnic Uighurs (pronounced WEE-gurs) who fled Western China before the Afghanistan war.

Uighurs are a Turkic Muslim minority from the Xinjiang province of far West China.

Human rights activists say they are brutally repressed by the Chinese government but are not considered threats to the US or any other western country.

The men were in Afghanistan in the fall of 2001 when the US invaded after the September 11 terrorist attacks and conducted an extensive bombing campaign against terrorist group al Qaida and the ruling Taliban.

In order to flee the bombs the men made their way into Pakistan.

They were captured by bounty hunters near Tora Bora and turned over to the US for a cash reward.

It has been alleged they travelled to Afghanistan to set up camp with other Uighurs who opposed the Chinese government. Speaking of their plight yesterday, the men's lawyer Susan Baker Manning said: "They have not received any military training in Afghanistan. They did not take up arms against anyone."

However, according the Wall Street Journal online, some of them received weapons training at Afghan camps affiliated with al Qaeda or the Taliban, as part of their separatist movement from the Chinese government.

And court documents relating to the Uighur captives assert they were part of a group of 22 caught at an Eastern Turkish Islamic Movement (ETIM) training camp.

A summary of evidence against Mr. Parhat prepared for his tribunal included the following allegations:

* That he is associated with al Qaida and the Taliban

* That he received weapons training while in Tora Bora on the Kalashnikov AK-47 assault rifle and other light weapons

* That the training camp was provided to the Uighurs by the Taliban

But According to Mrs. Manning, the men did not travel to Afghanistan with the intent to take any hostile action against the United States, however when military authorities realised the mistake, they didn't return to China, for fear they would be tortured or put to death. Three of the four were cleared for release from Guantánamo by military review six years ago — the fourth in 2005.

In 2008 they won legal challenges before US courts. When it was announced earlier this year that some of them would be released to the US, a political firestorm erupted in Congress and the plans were halted.

Speaking for the four yesterday, Mr. Nasser thanked the Bermuda Government and people for taking them in.

"Growing up under communism, we always dreamed of living in peace and working in free society like this one. Today you have let freedom ring."

Mrs. Manning said she was pleased with Bermuda's decision to grant the men asylum.

"What the Bermuda Government has done is a great thing. I hope and expect that the Bermuda people will be proud of their Government for doing this. These are innocent men. It is a profound act of generosity to give these men refuge. I understand that there may be some concerns, but let's get real. They are only four people and they are refugees. Bermuda has shown the courage of its convictions. It has been willing to step up and do the right thing."

Another lawyer for the four, P. Sabin Willett, told the Los Angeles Times: "Bermuda just stepped up and did it, God bless them.

"They have put the bigger countries to shame."

She said reports suggesting that the Pacific island Palau had been given $200 million in aid for taking other Uighurs was not true.

Mrs. Manning said the US and Palau had a long-standing relationship which included financial and military support and the aid had nothing to do with the former detainees.

Of the four men in Bermuda, the lawyer said: "They have a lot to absorb. They are glad to be free at long last.

"They are very excited to learn more about Bermuda and we are trying to help them learn about this wonderful Island. They are trying to rest a little bit and trying to get their heads around what has happened."

Asked what the men will do, she said: "It is too early to tell what they will do. They are in Bermuda for the near-term. They are going to be guests for the near-term. What the longer-terms plans are, they do not know.

"China has long called for the return of these men, but the US has consistently refused to do that. We long ago determined that they could not be repatriated back because China would torture them or worse. The way China treats people is a human rights scandal of huge proportions."