The Uighurs: 3

I’m trying to track down the truth behind the various claims that are being made about the Uighur detainees at Guantanamo. (Previous posts: 1, 2.) One that keeps coming up is this:

“At Guantanamo Bay, the Uighurs are known for picking up television sets on which women with bared arms appear and hurling them across the room.”

Jonah Goldberg:

“While watching a televised soccer game, the camera showed women with exposed arms, and the Uighurs went ballistic, picking up the TV and smashing it.” [UPDATE: I originally had the Gingrich quote twice. I have no idea how that happened. Sorry. END UPDATE]

As far as I can tell, the source for this story is this paragraph from the LA Times:

“But the TV privileges underscored potential difficulties to come, according to one current and one former U.S. official. Not long after being granted access to TV, some of the Uighurs were watching a soccer game. When a woman with bare arms was shown on the screen, one of the group grabbed the television and threw it to the ground, according to the officials.”

I was thinking about this while I was waiting for Obama’s Notre Dame speech to start: about the way the story had metamorphosed from one incident into Gingrich’s “known for picking up television sets” (apparently not just once, but often enough to acquire a reputation), and Jonah Goldberg’s “going ballistic”. Suddenly the phone rang; I ran to get it, and realized: if some official with an axe to grind had been in my house, s/he could easily have told the LA Times that I fled the room as soon as the President got up to speak. It would have been true. But it would have been awfully misleading.

So I decided to find out what actually happened. I wrote to the Uighurs’ lawyer, Sabin Willett. I have corresponded with him occasionally in the past, he has always been completely trustworthy, and I was hoping that he would be able to tell me the story behind this episode. But guess what? He has no idea what those officials are talking about. From his email (quoted with permission):

“I have seen this reference. I have no idea where it comes from.

from my own observation, our clients are neither violent nor badly disposed to women. our translator is a woman, and some of the attorneys are women, and in our meetings the lawyers do not cover — ie — wear a headscarf. The men are extremely courteous toward women, actually.

the idea that the clients are religious extremists is silly. five of their companions have been living in Europe, peaceably, for three years now, in cultures that are primarily western.”

If anyone reading this actually knows anything about this episode, please feel free to contact me. Until then, I’m left wondering how an allegation by unnamed officials in one article, concerning an episode that might never have happened, or that might be described very differently, ends up being cited by so many people as though it were gospel.

While I’m on this subject: Senator Webb should know better than to say this:

“The situation with the Chinese Uighurs that you’re talking about, on the one hand, it can be argued that they were simply conducting dissident activities against the government of China. On the other, they accepted training from al Qaeda and as a result they have taken part in terrorism. I don’t believe they should come to the United States.”

This post has a description of the village the Uighurs stayed in, and the training they received. It involved learning to assemble and disassemble a rifle, and firing a few rounds from it. I did as much in summer camp, and I’m not all that dangerous. This post covers the organization they were either staying with or members of. It was not designated as a terrorist organization while they were there; it had no affiliation with al Qaeda; and when it was designated as a terrorist organization later, that designation was widely regarded as a concession the Bush administration made to China in return for China’s acquiescence in the UN’s Iraq war resolution.

The Uighurs did not “accept al Qaeda training”, and Sen. Webb should not say that they did.

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