View Full Version : Uighurs' Translator Reflects On Their Odyssey

16-06-09, 18:58
All Things Considered, June 16, 2009 · After an eight-year odyssey, four Muslims from China have been banished to — of all places — Bermuda.

The four were among a groups of Uighurs — members of a Turkic ethnic group from China's Xinjiang province — who fled China in the summer of 2001, claiming religious persecution. They slipped across the border into Afghanistan. Later, they crossed into Pakistan, where they were swept up by Pakistani security services. They were transferred to the United States and jailed in the military prison at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.

The Uighurs were later declared innocent of terrorism, and the U.S. has been trying to place them somewhere ever since. Returning them to China would probably mean torture.

Four of them were sent to Bermuda in the past week, accompanied by their interpreter, Rushan Abbas.

"They're doing great," Abbas told NPR's Robert Siegel. "They're basically just relaxing and resting, other than the times they're speaking to the reporters. We're getting overwhelming interest from all around the world. They're just trying to get used to this new life — going out shopping, going to restaurants, went to ice cream, swimming, fishing."

Abbas, a Uighur who moved to the United States in 1989, said she was originally hired in 2002 by Defense Department contractors to translate for the interrogators.

"I stayed for nine months translating for them. Then I left the base and came back to California — that's where I live," she said. "And after three, four years, defense attorneys contacted me when they needed language support when they were defending these men. So I started to go back to Guantanamo again starting summer 2006. I have been translating for them ever since, continuously."

When asked if the Uighurs were treated differently from the other detainees at Guantanamo, Abbas said she could not answer "because of the classified information." But she said the Uighurs, who were sitting next to her during the interview, could answer the question. She translated for them.

"After they declared our innocence, they brought us to a place that's a little bit better, that's more like a [POW] camp," Abbas said, interpreting for one of them. "We can freely exercise and go outside. The whole treatment toward us was different because the guards and the military realized that we are innocent — we should be free but only reason we are here because no other country will accept us."

The Uighurs contacted their families when they got to Bermuda, but one of them has had trouble reaching his relatives since then.

"He said that the day that he arrived here, he called his family on the phone and he was very excited to talk to his family," Abbas said. "Ever since then, the last several days, he's been trying 10 to 15 times a day. The phone is no longer in service. So he's not being able to reach them. So we have no idea what's going on. If the communist government interfered with the phone line or — we have no idea. So he's getting a little worried about this."

When asked what she makes of it all, Abbas said she learned that "justice prevails at last at the end."

"It's a happy ending," she says. "I trust the American justice system and I trust the administration doing the right thing. They released four; they still have 13 Uighurs still in Guantanamo in exactly the same situation, still not freed yet. I hope that the same thing will happen to them and we'll have a happy ending for all."