The last of 22 Uyhgurs held by the U.S. military at Guantánamo Bay have been freed, ten years after investigators determined that they should be released and five years after a federal judge ruled that they were unlawfully detained. The three men have been granted residence in Slovakia. From Charlie Savage at The New York Times:
The Uighurs have long served as a particularly high profile symbol for opponents of the Guantánamo policy. Leaked dossiers for the three detainees sent to Slovakia — Yusef Abbas, Hajiakbar Abdulghupur, and Saidullah Khalik — say that at least as early as 2003, the military had determined they were “not affiliated with Al Qaeda or a Taliban leader” and should be released.
But the United States could not repatriate the Uighurs because the Chinese government has a history of mistreating Uighurs as it deals with ethnic unrest in its vast Central Asian border region of Xinjiang, where Uighurs are the largest ethnic group; the American military believed some of the Uighurs had received weapons training at a camp in Afghanistan run by a separatist Uighur group. Other countries were reluctant to take them, in part because of Chinese diplomatic pressure. [Source]
The men were caught between Republican opposition to their court-ordered release into the U.S. and Chinese insistence that they be returned to China for interrogation. From, respectively, Adam Serwer at MSNBC and The Miami Herald’s Guantánamo correspondent Carol Rosenberg:
“Let’s be clear: these terrorists would not be held in prisons but released into neighborhoods,” Wolf said. “They should not be released at all into the United States. Do members realize who these people are? There have been published reports that the Uighurs were members of the Eastern Turkistan Islamic Movement, a designated terrorist organization affiliated with Al Qaeda.” Former House Speaker Newt Gingrich said the Uighurs “instructed by the same terrorists responsible for killing 3,000 Americans on September 11, 2001.” He then urged Obama to send them back to China. One of the prisoners responded to Gingrich through their attorney: ”Why does he hate us so much?”
A U.S. federal court had ruled in 2008 that the detention of the Uighurs was baseless and that they were not terrorists or “enemy combatants” – something that, according to Klaidman, the government had already known for at least five years. The court also questioned the government’s designation of the East Turkistan Islamic Movement as an ally of the Taliban and Al Qaeda, which Mother Jones’ Stephanie Mencimer writes was motivated by the Bush administration’s desire to shore up Chinese support for the invasion of Iraq, itself based on a falsehood. Judge Ricardo Urbina, who ordered the Uighurs be resettled in the U.S. in 2008 after determining they posed no threat to America (a ruling later blocked at the request of the Obama administration) told the Miami Herald that “there was not a shred of evidence that they were disliked by anyone — anyone but the Chinese government.” Don’t forget Wolf and Gingrich.
Yet the backlash succeeded. […] [Source]
China, in fact, had opposed U.S. efforts to find the Uighurs of Guantánamo safe haven across the globe, formally protesting resettlements and insisting that these Muslim citizens be returned for interrogation.
The last three Uighurs at Guantánamo packed their bags to leave Camp Iguana for the second time this year. In September, the men had been offered and accepted resettlement in Costa Rica, according to two U.S. government officials who spoke about the deal anonymously because they were not authorized by the Obama administration to discuss it.
They were ready to go when the Costa Rican government suddenly withdrew the offer, said one official who called the Uighur captives of Guantánamo “extraordinarily difficult to resettle, in particular because of Chinese pressure” on countries that might have otherwise taken them in. [Source]
The release follows China’s characterization of a bloody clash in Xinjiang on Monday as an organized terrorist attack. Its claims of international organization behind Xinjiang violence are disputed.