The Uighurs: 1

Newt Gingrich has decided to move on from lecturing us about Democrats’ moral degeneracy and terror-coddling ways, and warn us about a brand new peril:

“America, meet the Uighurs.

Seventeen of the 241 terrorist detainees currently being held at Guantanamo Bay are Chinese Muslims known as Uighurs. These Uighurs have been allied with and trained by al Qaeda-affiliated terrorist groups. The goal of the Uighurs is to establish a separate sharia state. (…)

But as you can see, the truth about the Uighurs (which you definitely won’t hear from the anti-Guantanamo legal industry) is very different. Contrary to the claims of their defenders, the Guantanamo Uighurs are not pro-democracy activists unjustly held by American authorities.

Even if you accept the argument made by their defenders that the Uighurs’ true targets are Chinese, not Americans, it does nothing to change the fact that they are trained mass killers instructed by the same terrorists responsible for killing 3,000 Americans on September 11, 2001.”

Given his track record, I’m not sure why anyone listens to anything Gingrich says. But since people are saying this sort of thing about the Uighurs, I thought I might provide some evidence to the contrary.

The short version is: the Uighurs are refugees from China who wound up in a village in Afghanistan affiliated with a group called the East Turkestan Islamic Movement. Some wanted to resist Chinese rule; some were just trying to get away from Chinese oppression; one was trying to go to Turkey and couldn’t get a visa. They were not trained by al Qaeda. There is no evidence that any of them had anything against the US, or ever acted against us. The village was bombed, and they fled and were turned in by bounty hunters.

Even the Bush administration’s Combatant Status Review Commissions, which were heavily slanted towards the government, found them not to be enemy combatants. (The government had decided that some of them were not enemy combatants even before their CSRT hearings.) Despite that fact, we have kept them in prison for over seven years. (After they were cleared in 2003, they could not be released back to China, since they would be tortured or killed.) That’s a very long time to be locked away without having done anything. Some of them have children they have never met. Their wives and families did not know that they were alive for several years.

Even if you don’t think that we owe them a home, at least we owe them honesty. Using them to score political points is obscene.

This brief (pdf) contains some background about the Uighurs. Here’s a description of the village they stayed in (the “terrorist training camp”):

“There were no Afghans or Arabs in the village. The village itself was no more than a handful of houses bisected by dirt tracks. Each Petitioner, as well as five Uighurs who would later be determined non-combatants, lived in this village in October, 2001. In return for food and shelter, the Uighur men did odd jobs and manual labor. They helped build houses and a mosque.

In the village there was a single AK-47 Kalashnikov rifle and a pistol. Sixteen of the eighteen Uighurs (including all Petitioners and all five of the Uighurs later determined to be noncombatants) freely admit that they were shown the Kalashnikov, and how to assemble and disassemble the weapon. Some engaged in target practice. (Akhtar Qassim, later determined not to be an enemy combatant, shot three or four rounds.)”

Think of it: they shot several rounds from a gun, and helped build houses. I believe some of them might also have dug latrines. That sounds pretty dangerous. Thank heavens we don’t have any people who have shot guns and built houses in our neighborhoods!

Here’s a description (pdf, see pp. 211-212) of the Uighurs from an FBI report filed in 2004, and describing a visit in 2002. It follows what seems to be an account of abuse of one of the Uighurs:

“The Uighurs are moderate Muslims who occupied East Turkestan, which was taken over by the Chinese and renamed the Xinjiang province of China. The Uighurs were offered land in Afghanistan in order to gather personnel opposing Chinese oppression. They were often inspired by Radio Free Asia, which [redacted] was often a broadcaster for. The Uighurs considered themselves to be fighting for democracy, and they idolized the United States. Although the Uighurs are Muslim their agenda did not appear to include Islamic radicalism. They claimed to have no political connection to Islamic terrorists or the Taliban. However, their camp in Afghanistan was bombed, and they fled to Pakistan. The Uighurs were captured by the Pakistanis, with half being transferred to US custody, and half being remanded directly to Chinese officials. It was alleged that the Uighurs who were transferred directly to the Chinese were immediately executed. At the time of my TDY, US officials were considering whether to return the Uighurs to the Chinese, possibly to gain support for anticipated US action in the Middle East. The Uighur detainees at GTMO were convinced that they would be immediately executed if they were returned to China.”

That’s not a defense lawyer speaking; it’s an FBI agent, interviewing them about a year after their detention. These are not terrorists. These are people we picked up by mistake.

On reflection, I’m going to post this now, and put some other stuff in a later post. But think of this: these men are now halfway through their eighth year in captivity. They deserve better than Newt Gingrich playing politics with their lives.

Our ideas can save democracy... But we need your help! Donate Now!