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uyghur Advice
15-11-04, 07:40
Guantanamo detainees pose dilemma

Eligible for release, the Muslim Uighurs could be in danger if returned to China.

By Neil A. Lewis

New York Times News Service


GUANTANAMO BAY, Cuba - One of the most vexing and peculiar problems that the imprisonment of people suspected of being terrorists at Guantanamo has caused for the Bush administration has been what to do with ethnic Uighur detainees.

Guantanamo has 22 Uighur (pronounced WEE-ger) detainees, most captured in Afghanistan. They traveled there from their homeland in the Xinjiang region of China, where the mostly Muslim Uighurs have fought a low-level insurgency against Beijing's rule for years.

U.S. military officials have concluded that at least half of the Uighurs here are eligible for release, but the prisoners have said they do not want to be returned to China, because they fear they will be tortured or killed as terrorists.

That has sent U.S. officials scrambling to find a third country willing to accept the Uighurs. So far, several European countries, including Norway and Switzerland, have declined. Newspapers in other European countries have reported that their governments have refused as well.

Beijing has asserted that the Uighurs are terrorists and that the United States should return them to China to demonstrate its commitment to fighting terrorism around the world.

A spokesman for China's Foreign Ministry warned this month that relations between Washington and Beijing could be harmed if the United States sent any Uighurs to a third country.

One of the Uighurs held at Guantanamo went before a special tribunal recently to argue that he was not an unlawful enemy combatant and should not have been arrested in Afghanistan and kept in the detention camp here.

The man, a 33-year-old with an artificial left leg, told the military panel that he was not an enemy of the United States and that he hoped America would one day help the Uighur independence movement.

After taking an oath before Allah that he would tell the truth, the man said, "It's true that I went to Afghanistan," explaining that he did so to find a place for his family to live free from Chinese oppression.

He disputed a statement that he had told an interrogator that he had been a member of the East Turkistan Islamic Movement, which was defined by the government as an extremist Muslim group in China.

"We fought against the Chinese government for years," he said. "That does not mean we are al-Qaeda." He said he had sought military training and the proper use of a gun to fight the Chinese in the future.

At various times, he said that there was no proof he had been involved with al-Qaeda. "Do you have any proof that I am with al-Qaeda? Any real proof?"

When he was told that there was evidence of his association but that it was classified and he could not see it, he said, "I can't bring any evidence against the classified information I cannot see."