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Chinese Muslims Freed From Guantanamo Ten Years After Being Found Innocent

Chinese Muslims Freed From Guantanamo Ten Years After Being Found Innocent

Written by Zack Beauchamp

The last of 22 Uighurs, a largely Muslim ethnic group concentrated in Western China, were freed from Guantanamo Bay, according to an announcement from the Pentagon on Tuesday. Their freedom comes ten years after the U.S. military determined that the men posed no threat to American national security.

Slovakia agreed to repatriate Yusef Abbas, Hajiakbar Abdulghupur, and Saidullah Khalik, who could not be transferred to the U.S. mainland because of Congressional restrictions. The decision is consistent with the Guantanamo approach codified in the newly signed 2014 National Defense Authorization Act, which maintains the ban on transferring detainees to the United States while increasing the president’s power to transfer detainees to other nations.

The deal with Slovakia is a comparatively happy ending to a terribly sad saga. The 22 Uighurs rounded up by the United States in 2001 were fleeing brutal persecution in China, which represses the mere expression of Uighur religion and culture as a matter of policy. “At its most extreme,” Human Rights Watch documented in 2005, “peaceful [Uighur] activists practicing their religion in ways that the Party and government deem unacceptable are arrested, tortured, and at times executed.”

The now-released Guantanamo inmates ran to Taliban-controlled regions of Afghanistan, where there were preexisting Uighur communities, and hence were rounded up during the first year of the war in Afghanistan as suspected transnational terrorists. “When the Uighurs were turned over to the United States, they thought that they had been saved,” J. Wells Dixon, a lawyer representing some of the inmates, told PBS.

It took two years for the U.S. military to acknowledge its mistake. In 2003, the New York Times’ Charlie Savage reports, military officials decided the Uighur inmates were “not affiliated with Al Qaeda or a Taliban leader” and hence should be released from custody.

But the mechanism for release was tricky. They couldn’t be sent back to China, and there were tremendous domestic political pressures against releasing them into the United States. So, for some time, they continued to be held as prisoners in Guantanamo, despite demonstrably posing no threat to the United States.

In 2005, a military tribunal ruled the Uighurs were “not enemy combatants” and hence should be released. One of their lawyers asked that they be allowed to live in a hotel in Guantanamo until a permanent place for them could be found, a request the Department of Defense denied. Three years later, a civilian court ruled that all remaining Uighurs be transferred to the United States to live freely, a ruling overturned on the Obama Administration’s appeal.

Slowly, the Uighur inmates were transferred away from Guantanamo to countries around the world. Five inmates were released to Albania in 2006, but the repatriation process really began in earnest in 2009. The Slovakia agreement is the culmination of this process.

The Uighurs’ long-awaited freedom is part of what Savage describes as a renewed push to close Guantanamo Bay, one of President Obama’s most high-profile campaign promises in 2008. 155 prisoners remain at Guantanamo Bay, a facility that costs the United States billions of dollars to operate. The general who presided over Guantanamo Bay’s creation now describes it as “a prison that should never have been opened.”

This post was originally published in ThinkProgress

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Photo Credit: Walt Jabsco

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12:27AM PST on Jan 21, 2014

Due process is only guaranteed in US Controlled territories and states. Guantanamo is neither of these. Therefore years of innocent people's lives were stolen from them without compensation, and often times these people were tortured in ways banned by United Nations and other world wide agreements.
By the way my fellow Americans, the US military has been given the power to pick you up and detain you indefinately, with no charges and never being able to see family, friends or even an attorney. They can legally snatch you off the street, hold you for years and do only God knows what to you and never have to face any consequences for it. Welcome to America, the new Nazi police state. Don't believe then look at history and compare them to our laws being passed and enforced today.

2:30AM PST on Jan 16, 2014

Got any stats for that Sarah H? No, because it isn't true.

2:26AM PST on Jan 16, 2014

Terrible injustice and tragedy.

2:19AM PST on Jan 16, 2014

I don't think China will want them and I'm sure we don't want them either.

4:37AM PST on Jan 15, 2014

Most of those released from Gitmo have returned to kill again, these probably will too.

7:37AM PST on Jan 11, 2014

thank goodness--FINALLY!!

9:46AM PST on Jan 10, 2014

The due process right includes speedy trial in our Constitution and we should defend this right whereever it is attacked.

11:42AM PST on Jan 9, 2014

You can't compensate someone for 10 years fo their lives? If he wasn't a terrorist when he went in he is now.

5:42PM PST on Jan 8, 2014

I agree with Tanya S. the American governmet should be given a compensation for these innocents Chinese Muslims victims.

6:16AM PST on Jan 8, 2014

America should compensate these innocents/victims for the 10 years lost of their lives but what does it do.. ship them elsewhere. No ouce of compassion there. Shame on America

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