The Uighurs: Compilation

The Uighurs: Compilation

This is a post compiling the questionable and/or false claims that have been made about the Uighurs. It contains a few things I have not said in any of my earlier posts, but its main purpose is to collect these points in one convenient location. I have tried to be thorough; those of you who are already bored with this topic might want to skip this one.

As before, I’m taking Newt Gingrich’s column as my starting point, since it conveniently collects these false or questionable claims in one piece of irresponsible prose. Here are the claims Gingrich makes; I’ve added numbers to his claims for convenient reference.

“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. (1) The goal of the Uighurs is to establish a separate sharia state. (2) (…)

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. (3) (…)

By their own admission, Uighurs being held at Guantanamo Bay are members of or associated with the Eastern Turkistan Islamic Movement (ETIM) (4), an al Qaeda-affiliated group designated as a terrorist organization under U.S law. (…) (5)

Prior to 9/11, the Uighurs received jihadist training in Tora Bora, Afghanistan, a known al Qaeda and Taliban training ground. (6) What’s more, they were trained, most likely in the weapons, explosives and ideology of mass killing, by Abdul Haq, a member of al Qaeda’s shura , or top advisory council. (7) President Obama’s own interagency review board found that at least some of the Uighurs are dangerous. (8) (…)

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. (9)”

Taking these claims in order:

(1) “These Uighurs have been allied with and trained by al Qaeda-affiliated terrorist groups.” The Uighurs deny that they were members of the East Turkestan Islamic Movement, which is the “al Qaeda-affiliated group” the government accuses them of being “affiliated” with. They were present at what is variously described as a camp or a village where Uighurs were trained by the ETIM. From this brief (pdf):

“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.”

The training consisted in being taught to assemble and disassemble a rifle, and (in some cases) firing a few rounds from it. From the same brief:

“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.)”

From this CSRT transcript:

“Q. What other activities were going on at the camp?

A. There was no typical training, whoever volunteered, once in a while people would run or exercise. I would carry wood, water came from far away, bring stone to build houses.

Q. I want to make sure that I understand, you only trained on the rifle for two or three days between the time you arrived and the time you left the camp?

A. I don’t remember the exact date, maybe June 10th or the end of June. One day they showed us an old rusty rifle for about a half hour. Then the second day we shot three to five bullets.”

(2) “The goal of the Uighurs is to establish a separate sharia state.” I have no idea which Uighurs Gingrich is talking about here, but the Uighurs in detention at Guantanamo have consistently denied this. To my knowledge, there is no evidence at all that it is true.

(3) “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.” According to their translator:

“Abbas, however, says that the detainee who went off on the TV has already been released to Albania and that it had nothing to do with any bare arms. Rather, he had repeatedly requested to speak to camp supervisors and had been ignored, so he chose to cause a scene.”

No bare arms. Wrong detainee. Enough said.

(4) “By their own admission, Uighurs being held at Guantanamo Bay are members of or associated with the Eastern Turkistan Islamic Movement (ETIM)”. — Again, they have consistently denied this. From the Parhat decision (pdf), written by judges who (unlike me) have seen the evidence on which the government bases its allegation that Parhat was a member of ETIM:

“To support the contention that Parhat was “part of or supporting” ETIM, the government relies on evidence that comes almost entirely from Parhat’s own statements and those of other Uighur detainees. Parhat stated that, when he decided to leave China, he headed for a Uighur camp, widely known in Xinjiang province, that was located in the Tora Bora mountains of Afghanistan. See CSRT Exhibit R7, at 1-2 (App. 51-52) (FBI interview report dated May 11, 2002). At the camp, he received training on a Kalashnikov rifle and a pistol, which “consisted of weapon disassembly and cleaning,” Pet’r Br. 18 n.22 (quoting CSRT Exhibit R3, at 2 (App. 37))3; performed guard duty, see CSRT Exhibit R7, at 2 (App. 52); and helped to build a house, see CSRT Decision, encl. 3, at 6 (App. 24). He sought the training, he said, only to fight the Chinese government. Id. encl. 1, at 2 (App. 12); id. encl. 3, at 3-4 (App. 21-22).

Parhat testified that a man named Hassan Maksum, whom the government has identified as a leader of ETIM, was a leader at the camp. See id. encl. 3, at 6 (App. 24). Parhat maintains that the fact that Maksum was a leader of the camp is not enough to make it an “ETIM camp,” and that the kind of activities in which Parhat participated at the camp are not enough to establish that he was “part of or supporting” ETIM. The government argues to the contrary.”

The judges did not decide on the reliability of these allegations, since they found that the government’s case was inadequate on other grounds: it did not establish that ETIM was associated with al Qaeda or the Taliban, or that it engaged in hostilities against the US or its coalition partners. Which brings us to:

(5) “the Eastern Turkistan Islamic Movement (ETIM), an al Qaeda-affiliated group designated as a terrorist organization under U.S law.” ETIM is now affiliated with al Qaeda. Its leader has apparently been a member of the al Qaeda shura since 2005. In 2008, they issued a video threatening the Beijing Olympics. However, since the Uighur detainees were arrested in 2001, and since the organization has changed considerably in the intervening years, I have no idea what this has to do with them.

The US designated it as a terrorist group in 2002. At the time, independent observers seemed puzzled by this designation, and it was widely regarded as a concession made to the Chinese government in exchange for their not vetoing the Iraq war resolution in the Security Council, and generally acquiescing in our invasion of Iraq.

The Parhat decision (pdf) is, in my opinion, a good place to look for evidence that ETIM was affiliated with al Qaeda or the Taliban at the time. The government’s evidence for this claim is laid out on pp. 18-22, and assessed on pp. 24-30. Apparently, it consists of four redacted documents and one interview with another detainee, who claimed that the Taliban provided the Uighurs with their camp. Taking the interview first: the Court finds two problems with it. First:

“Parhat’s own statement was that the camp was given to the Uighurs by the “Afghani Government.” CSRT Exhibit R6, at 1-2 (App. 49-50) (FBI interview report dated July 19, 2003).6 Of course, the Taliban was the “Afghani Government” in 2001, and not all entities provided with housing by that government — which no doubt ranged from orphanages to terrorist organizations like al Qaida — were “associated” with the Taliban in a sense that would make them enemy combatants.”

Or, in short: that the Taliban gave the Uighurs a site to live on is a pretty weak reed on which to rest the claim that they are enemy combatants. Second:

“Although the report states that Basit said he had been told that the camp was provided to the Uighurs by the Taliban, Parhat’s appellate counsel has called our attention to evidence from another Uighur’s CSRT to the effect that the Uighur camp was actually in existence prior to the Taliban takeover of Afghanistan.”

So even that weak reed might not exist.

The redacted documents are, of course, harder to assess, since they are, well, redacted. However, here’s the judges’ take:

“As Part III indicates, the principal evidence against Parhat regarding the second and third elements of DOD’s definition of enemy combatant consists of four government intelligence documents. The documents make assertions — often in haec verba — about activities undertaken by ETIM, and about that organization’s relationship to al Qaida and the Taliban. The documents repeatedly describe those activities and relationships as having “reportedly” occurred, as being “said to” or “reported to” have happened, and as things that “may” be true or are “suspected of” having taken place. But in virtually every instance, the documents do not say who “reported” or “said” or “suspected” those things. Nor do they provide any of the underlying reporting upon which the documents’ bottom-line assertions are founded, nor any assessment of the reliability of that reporting. Because of those omissions, the Tribunal could not and this court cannot assess the reliability of the assertions in the documents. And because of this deficiency, those bare assertions cannot sustain the determination that Parhat is an enemy combatant.”

Moreover:

“Parhat contends that the ultimate source of key assertions in the four intelligence documents is the government of the People’s Republic of China, and he offers substantial support for that contention. Parhat further maintains that Chinese reporting on the subject of the Uighurs cannot be regarded as objective, and offers substantial support for that proposition as well.”

I have not seen the government’s evidence. These judges have. The Chief Judge, David Sentelle, was appointed by Reagan; he voted to uphold the Military Commissions Act’s suspension of habeas corpus for Guantanamo detainees. The other two judges were appointed by Clinton and George W. Bush. It’s not what I would call a court full of liberals. But they found the evidence that ETIM was affiliated with al Qaeda or the Taliban while the detainees were at the camp inadequate.

(6) “Prior to 9/11, the Uighurs received jihadist training in Tora Bora, Afghanistan, a known al Qaeda and Taliban training ground.” About the training: see (1) above. If occasional runs, half an hour with a rusty rifle, and shooting three to five rounds count as jihadist training, I guess I’m a jihadist, based on my sporadic attempts to get in shape and my experiences at Camp Thoreau when I was 10. (Yes, I did go to a camp called Camp Thoreau.)

About Tora Bora: the Tora Bora mountains cover a fair amount of territory. The Uighurs were not at the al Qaeda complex in the Tora Bora mountains, and I know of no evidence that they were in contact with them.

(7) “What’s more, they were trained, most likely in the weapons, explosives and ideology of mass killing, by Abdul Haq, a member of al Qaeda’s shura , or top advisory council.” — As noted above, Abdul Haq has been a member of al Qaeda’s shura since 2005, four years after the Uighurs were detained. Thus, they were trained by someone who became a member of the shura four years later, but not by someone who was a member of the shura, or (as far as I can tell) of al Qaeda, at the time. (See the evidence in (5) above.)

They were not trained in “the weapons, explosives, and ideology of al Qaeda” (see (1) above.)

(8) “President Obama’s own interagency review board found that at least some of the Uighurs are dangerous.” There is no evidence that this is true.

(9) “they are trained mass killers instructed by the same terrorists responsible for killing 3,000 Americans on September 11, 2001.” See (1) about their training, (4) about their connection to ETIM, (5) about ETIM’s connection to al Qaeda and the Taliban at the time.

This is an incredibly serious accusation. There is no evidence whatsoever that it is true — i.e., that the Uighurs were instructed by al Qaeda — and a whole lot of evidence that it is false. If the government had any evidence that they had been instructed by al Qaeda, is it even remotely plausible that the Bush administration would have found that they were not enemy combatants? I don’t think so.