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Kafka and Uighurs at Guantanamo

By       Message Ray McGovern     Permalink
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"There is no right to due process for an alien who is not here," insisted the 44th Solicitor General of the United States, Gregory G. Garre, proudly representing the President of the United States. Garre is a teacher of the law, you see, and was attempting to show a three-judge panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit why one of their colleagues had overreached.

Garre claimed that U.S. District Judge Ricardo Urbina had exceeded his authority on Oct. 7, 2008 in ordering that 17 men held in Guantanamo for almost seven years be brought to his court for a fair hearing on the modalities of their release. Urbina wanted government lawyers to face the 17 prisoners and present the government’s argument as to why they should remain in detention.

"Aliens have no rights," Garre kept repeating. And they REALLY have no rights, he seemed to be saying, if they are "not physically in the United States."

And that, of course, was precisely the reason former Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld and his clever band of Mafia lawyers wanted to keep such "aliens" offshore in the prison created at the U.S. naval base in Guantanamo, Cuba. Garre was determined to prevent their feet from "touching our soil," as he put it, on the chance they might then persuade some judge to let them appear before an impartial court.

NON-Enemy-Combatants

Never mind that the detainees had been deemed NON-enemy-combatants; never mind that the U.S. government had already conceded that, despite initial suspicions that they were terrorists, the U.S. government could adduce no evidence to support that accusation.

Never mind that they had been unlawfully incarcerated for almost seven years. Garre spoke of "unlimited Executive power" in these matters. He kept insisting, "We have the authority to detain them." Garre added that the Justice Department had tried hard to find a country willing to accept them but failed.

The unfounded suspicion of terrorism, for which the U.S. was responsible, did not make them attractive candidates for immigration. And besides, no country wanted to risk antagonizing China.

You see, these prisoners are Uighurs, a Turkic people of Central Asia, five million of whom live in China’s northwestern province of Xinjiang. The Han Chinese have suppressed the Uighurs, their culture, and their strong sense of nationalism for decades. The Chinese government is fond of referring to Uighur nationalists as "terrorists," and has been pleased to use the U.S.-led global "war on terrorism" as an additional pretext to suppress them.

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An ancient and gifted people, Uighurs (WEE’-gurz) created a "Uighur empire" that stretched from the Caspian Sea to Manchuria and lasted from 744 to 840 CE. They considered trying to conquer China, but chose instead an exploitative trade policy to drain off its wealth into Uighur coffers.

Compared to Europeans of the time, Uighurs were considerably more advanced. Documents show, for example, that a Uighur farmer could write down a contract, using legal terminology. Some western scholars contend that acupuncture was not a Chinese, but rather a Uighur discovery. Famine and civil war brought down the Uighur empire in the middle of the 9th century, and they were then overrun by other central Asian peoples.

Wrong Place, Wrong Time

So how did Uighurs get to Guantanamo? Fleeing Chinese oppression, many Uighurs found their way to Afghanistan where they were living in a self-contained camp when the U.S. attacked in October 2001. They were captured in the wake of the fighting, many of them by Pakistani bounty hunters who proceeded to sell them to U.S. forces. Twenty-two Uighurs ended up in Guantanamo, joining others with the undeserved Rumsfeldian sobriquet "the worst of the worst."

After "interviewing" them extensively, by late 2003 U.S. interrogators had concluded that few, if any, were a threat. Under international law, the only country required to accept displaced persons is their country of origin. But China had been making a practice of incarcerating Uighurs with little if any proof of any involvement in violent acts. The Uighurs in Guantanamo did not want to trade one prison for another. No third country, however, would accept them—except Albania, which welcomed five in 2006.

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Some American judges have agreed with the two senior U.N. investigators, who have said that, under international law, the U.S. must immediately release the Uighur detainees. In Dec. 2005 District Judge James Robertson ruled unequivocally in favor of releasing the Uighurs, asserting, "This indefinite imprisonment at Guantanamo Bay is unlawful." He wanted them released in the U.S., but ended up deciding that existing law did not give him "the power to do what I believe justice requires."

It was not until almost three years later that Judge Ricardo Urbina, on Oct. 7, 2008 took the bull by the horns and ordered the 17 Uighurs brought to the Washington, D.C. area where local Uighur families were prepared to shelter them, and Lutheran churches were eager to assist in the resettlement process. But U.S. government lawyers appealed, arguing that letting them come to the U.S. would set a bad precedent with respect to others still held at Guantanamo, and the appeals court stayed Urbina’s order.

On Monday morning a three-judge appeals court met to hear arguments as to whether or not Urbina’s decision should be overturned. Judge Judith W. Rogers, appointed by President Bill Clinton, had objected strongly to the stay, pointing out, "The government can point to no evidence of dangerousness" from the Uighurs. On Monday, she subjected Barre to strong questioning. Her colleagues Karen Henderson and A. Raymond Randolph, both appointed by President George H. W. Bush, seemed much more sympathetic to the government’s position that the Uighurs should not set foot in the United States.

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Ray McGovern works with Tell the Word, the publishing arm of the ecumenical Church of the Saviour in inner-city Washington. He was an Army infantry/intelligence officer and then a CIA analyst for 27 years, and is now on the Steering Group of Veteran Intelligence Professionals for Sanity (VIPS). His (more...)
 

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