View Full Version : Chinese Muslims stuck in Guantanamo limbo

News from Australia
17-01-06, 12:22
Australian Broadcasting Corporation


LOCATION: http://www.abc.net.au/7.30/content/2006/s1549632.htm

Broadcast: 17/01/2006
Chinese Muslims stuck in Guantanamo limbo

Reporter: Mark Simkin

MAXINE McKEW: Four years have passed since the United States started detaining terror suspects at Guantanamo Bay in Cuba. The Administration repeatedly says that the prisoners are killers, terrorists and enemies of America. That's despite the fact that few of the inmates have been charged. What few realise, though, is that some of the prisoners have actually been cleared. They're known as Uighers - Chinese Muslims. The US continues to imprison the men even though an American court has branded their detention unlawful and after an admission by the authorities that they are not enemy combatants. Supporters want the men released and sent to a country such as Australia. It's an amazing story that raises serious questions about the way the war on terror is being prosecuted. North America correspondent Mark Simkin reports.

SABIN WILLETT, LAWYER: The poet Virgil said that there's a heartbreak at the heart of things. That's how I'd sum it up. They would literal - they were literally chained to the floor in one of these huts, as we were shown in to meet them. We are reaching a point where I fear we may soon be in crisis.

MARK SIMKIN: Sabin Willett is a lawyer who also writes best-selling thrillers. Last year he received a letter from Guantanamo Bay. It was a plea for help, a story more extraordinary than anything he could have written himself.

SABIN WILLETT: This is the piece of paper that started it all. "Request for legal assistance, Guantanamo Bay Naval Base. We are incarcerated by the US and we want a lawyer." Signed Abu Bakker Qassim and Adel Abdu al-Hakim.

MARK SIMKIN: The remarkable road to Guantanamo began here in north-west China. These are the Uighers, Chinese Muslims. They say the government represses them and some are fighting for an independent homeland. In 2001, a small group of Uighers travelled west. They say they were heading for Turkey for work and it is also claimed - though the men deny it - they were seeking training in Afghanistan to defy the Chinese Government. After the terrorist attack of Washington DC, the United States of America attacked the Taliban and the war on terror had begun. In Afghanistan there was chaos and confusion. Bounty hunters got the Uighers in neighbouring Pakistan.

SABIN WILLETT: The Uighers were sold for $5,000 a head - at least my clients, and probably more, to US forces. And by the time people figured out who they were, they were on a sort of one-way escalator to Guantanamo and were never able to get off.

MARK SIMKIN: Another Uigher soon joined them, Sadiq Turqistani. His story is even more bizarre. He'd been imprisoned by the Taliban, accused of trying to assassinate Osama bin Laden. The American soldiers liberated Turqistani from the Taliban jail and sent him to a Cuban one.

SABIN WILLETT: They used to say the enemy of my enemy is my friend, and I guess in the Bush Administration the enemy of my enemy is my enemy. I don't know how they can possibly explain Sadiq's case. My guess is that people thought Sadiq might have some useful information. If it were true that he had tried to assassinate bin Laden, maybe he would know something about where bin Laden was, things like that.

MARK SIMKIN: Sadiq Turqistani, Abu Bakker Qassim and Adel Abdu al-Hakim spent years at Guantanamo Bay before they got a day in court. In a room like this one, the military ruled that they were not enemy combatants. They were simply in the wrong place at the wrong time. That was nine months ago. But they're still prisoners.

MAN 1: The Uighers are in a surreal black hole. They've been declared to be innocent and yet they remain in Guantanamo with no sense of when they are going out.

MARK SIMKIN: The Uighers have now been moved to a somewhat more comfortable part of the prison, but they are still captives cut off from the world.

NURY TURKEL, UIGHER AMERICAN ASSOCIATION: Both Qassim and al-Hakim have young children, especially their third children was born after both of them left China so they haven't seen or even heard the youngest child's voice.

MARK SIMKIN: Nury Turkel is a leader for the Uigher community in the US. He's been given the green light to be a go-between. He passes information from the lawyers to the prisoners' families. Today, he's calling Abu Bakker Qassim's mother in China. Her son spent four years at Guantanamo Bay before she was told what had happened to him. She didn't even know if he was dead or alive.

MOTHER: I am thankful to God that my son is alive. The only comfort I feel right now is that he is alive. That's what matters the most to me. I am sure we will be reunited one day.

MARK SIMKIN: No-one from the government will discuss the Uighers' case on camera. The US faces a dilemma. If it releases the Uighers, what happens to them then? It doesn't want to send them back to China because they will be arrested and possibly tortured. The US has contacted 25 other countries about taking the Uighers, but all the countries have said no. Three hundred Uighers live in Washington DC. They think the prisoners should be able to live in the United States or, perhaps, granted refugee status by a country like Australia.

NURY TURKEL: Australia has been hosting large Uigher communities. They're settled mainly in Melbourne, Adelaide and Sydney areas and I'm sure they will be welcomed. They cannot only accept them to their society, but they're willing to provide jobs and housing if the Australian Government are willing to take a few of those individuals into the Australian society.

MARK SIMKIN: The latest legal move occurred here at Federal Court in Washington. Just before Christmas, a judge delivered a stunning verdict. The Uighers' ongoing detention is illegal, but there's nothing that can be done about it.

SABIN WILLETT: The import of the decision is that the President continues today to break the law every day that these men are in prison, and that must surely be an embarrassment.

MARK SIMKIN: The Uighers' response was to begin a hunger strike. Four years have now passed since the planes and prisoners started arriving at this corner of Cuba. The United States still insists the in-mates are the worst of the worst.

PRESIDENT GEORGE W. BUSH: These are people picked up off a battlefield, who want to do harm.

MARK SIMKIN: And yet the Uighers were not picked up on a battlefield and they never intended any harm. Their case is a mystery, full of questions. Why were they brought here? Why haven't they been released? What will happen to them if they are?

MAXINE McKEW: And our Immigration Department says it's received no specific request to allow the Uighers to settle in Australia. Mark Simkin put that report together.

18-01-06, 21:21
[FONT=Arial]Maxine McKew's final statement in the conclusion of this segment of the 7.30 Report,

And our Immigration Department says it's received no specific request to allow the Uighers to settle in Australia.

prompts me to ask, is anything being done on a collective basis by the Uyghur community in Australia?

Whilst DIMIA, the Immigration department, is not renown for its human rights record of late, we all need to put as much pressure on the Australian government to fulfill its obligations as a signatory to the UN Refugee Convention. And what better way than for the Uyghur community to initiate this?
To tell you the truth, most Australians don't understand the term 'Uyghur'. Perhaps this would be a good opportunity to start the slow process of educating us. (I too was oblivious to the Uyghur issue until I met an asylum seeker here in Australia).
There are also many human rights/refugee/social justice groups around who would be willing to add their support. The grass roots movement has played an important and crucial role in getting some changes to the recent deplorable situation in DIMIA's detention centres, and the treatment of refugees and asylum seekers - and there's still more to be done.
Nothing ventured, nothing gained!