Free at Last, Free at Last! Or Not.
Could there be any more compelling commentary on America's loss of
credibility among the international community then the inability of the Bush
Administration to find countries willing to accept Guantanamo prisoners
who are scheduled for release because they have been judged by the U.S.
military to have never had any ties to terrorism?
That was the question that bubbled up from last week's federal appeals court ruling that the U.S. military improperly labeled Huzaifa Parhat, a Chinese Muslim held at Guantanamo Bay for five years, an "enemy combatant" and ordered that he be released, transferred or granted a new hearing.
Parhat is one of seventeen Chinese Muslims imprisoned at GITMO. They
are known as Uighurs, part of a Muslim minority from western China. They
have been reliably reported to have been systematically persecuted by
Parhat's plight, of course, is a metaphor for a far larger problem. That
problem includes not only Guantanamo prisoners, but thousands of Iraqis
forced to flee their country to neighboring Jordan, Syria, and other locations
in the Middle East.
And between these two groups, it is difficult to say which American failure
has been most egregious.
Since the establishment of the GITMO detention facility, more than 770
people have been imprisoned there. Our president and his top lieutenants
incessantly told us these people were "the worst of the worst" -- all were
dangerous terrorists. The Bush Administration refused to review any of their
Nonetheless, some 500 have been released. Most have been sent back to
their home countries. There, many have been unconditionally freed by local
authorities, a few have been detained, and a significant number has been
enrolled in Saudi Arabia's highly secretive "re-education" program.
Our State Department says it is working hard to find countries willing to
accept detainees scheduled for release. This is probably true. The Uighur
experience is an example. To its credit, State refused to release these men to China, for fear that they would be jailed, persecuted, even executed. Finally, five Uighurs were released to – wait for it! – Albania, where they are confined to refugee camps, unable to speak the language and forbidden to
The refusal of so many countries to provide safe haven for these "cleared"
prisoners provides a depressing illustration of our diminished credibility and
our inability to persuade even those nations that are recipients of our
What a change from October 1962! At the time of the Cuban Missile Crisis,
President Kennedy sent former Secretary of State Dean Acheson to brief
French President Charles de Gaulle about this scariest of Cold War
Acheson offered to show the French leader the U-2 reconnaissance photos
that clearly showed Russian missile launchers in Cuba. De Gaulle waved
them off and said, "No, no, no, no. The word of the president of the United
States is good enough for me."
That may also have been true on September 12, 2001. But it's not true
anymore. Thank you, President Bush.
As for the larger and more complex problem of Iraqi refugees, their situation
has improved a bit but remains a national disgrace. The Associated Press
reports that the number of Iraqi refugees admitted into the United States rose in June, crossing the halfway point on the Bush administration's goal of 12,000 by the end of September.
The State Department says 1,721 Iraqi refugees entered the country
last month, up from 1,141 in May, the first time since 2003 that the
Administration's target of 1,000 per month mark had been surpassed. In
April, 974 Iraqis were admitted. The increase is said to be the result of a
push to streamline the security vetting process by the departments of State
and Homeland Security, which run the operation. How about Homeland
Security and Streamlining for an oxymoron?
But even the 12,000 target is far lower than that of other many countries, and it's only a small slice of the two million Iraqi refugees. June's admissions
brought the number of Iraqi refugees accepted in the U.S. to 6,463 since the current budget year began on Oct. 1. Those waiting include thousands of Iraqis who helped us as translators, drivers, and other grunt workers.