Relief funds help Guantanamo Uighur move forward

Corrected 2/4/10

An attorney with Kramer Levin Naftalis & Frankel contacted me two months ago to ask for my assistance on behalf of one of her firm’s Uighur clients who had recently been released from Guantanamo to Palau.

Ahmad Abdulahad in Palau after almost eight years in Guantanamo. (Photo courtesy of Kramer Levin).

Ahmad Abdulahad in Palau after almost eight years in Guantanamo. (Photo courtesy of Kramer Levin)

Kramer Levin’s client, a 38-year-old Uighur named Ahmad Abdulahad, was captured in Afghanistan soon after the American invasion in October 2001. His left leg was severely injured during an air strike at Qalai Janghi Prison near Mazar-E-Sharif, where he was being held prior to his transfer to Guantanamo.

Ahmad’s leg was amputated soon after his arrival in Guantanamo, and a prosthetic device was supplied by the U.S. military. The prosthesis was never fitted properly. As a result, Ahmad’s mobility has been very limited and he experiences chronic pain. Whether he is walking, sitting, or standing, the prosthesis rubs against his residual limb. This causes blistering, which is aggravated in the hot, humid climate of Palau.

Ahmad’s story

Ahmad was born in the Xinjiang Uighur Autonomous region, a western province of the People’s Republic of China.  As an ethnic Uighur (a Turkic Muslim minority), he suffered severe repression under China’s rule. Ahmad is an educated man with a wife and three children. He left his home to escape persecution in 2000. He traveled to Kyrgyzstan and later to Pakistan. Like many Uighur refugees, he finally settled in Afghanistan, the only Central Asian country where he was unlikely to face extradition to China.

Ahmad was living in Kabul at the time of the U.S. invasion. When the fighting moved closer to the city, he joined the crowds of civilians fleeing north. Although unarmed and unaffiliated with any of the warring factions, he was captured by the forces of the notorious warlord General Abdul Rashid Dostum and turned over to the Americans for a bounty of $5,000.

Now, eight years later, Ahmad is finally a free man. Despite the terrible adversities that he has faced, he is extraordinarily motivated to begin a new life, to find employment, and to become self-sufficient. But he needs extensive medical care.


U.S. Obligation to Freed Gitmo Detainees

(Originally posted on Daily Kos)

Four Uighur former Guantanamo inmates are now in Bermuda, other detainees have been released to France, Chad, Iraq and Saudi Arabia. Hungary, Italy and Palau appear to have joined the ranks of countries prepared to accept detainees cleared for release. The pace of releases finally seems to be picking up and that is a cause for optimism.

But, while groups like Amnesty are pleased to see these individuals finally released from wrongful detention, we are disturbed that there has been no public announcement that any of these individuals will receive compensation for their ill-treatment or any assistance from the United States in rebuilding their lives or coming to terms with their experiences.

Many of you reading this blog may feel that this is a side issue but it is not. International law requires the U.S. to provide remedy to those who have been wrongfully imprisoned.

Consider for a moment what the men recently released have lost. They have lost seven years of their lives. Quite apart from the personal deprivation of liberty that is also seven years of lost earning potential – one fifth of a working life. Their families too have been without their primary breadwinner all this time.

Furthermore, what kind of future do they have to look forward to? They certainly haven’t had the opportunity to learn or develop a trade while in detention, nor are many of them returning to a society they know well. Some may not even speak the local language. However idyllic Bermuda may appear in press photographs, it is a world away from the Central Asian steppe the Uighurs are used to.

Some released inmates may be grappling with medical or mental health problems. Defense attorney, Jeffrey Colman, a thirty-five year veteran of the criminal justice system who has represented four GITMO inmates this week described the facility as:

“Unlike any other institution… there is a level of hopelessness unlike anything I have ever seen.”

We know 5 inmates have committed suicide since the camp opened and in March this year the Department of Defense reported that 34 inmates were on hunger strike. Such figures give some insight into the harrowing nature of the detainees’ experiences – yet no provision has been made to support their rehabilitation.

Closing Guantanamo is not in and of itself enough. We have a moral and legal obligation to aid the reintegration of former inmates back into society. These men have been convicted of no crime. In our system that means they are innocent. No ifs or buts.

Innocent men wrongly held for seven years have a right to compensation. The Obama administration can’t simply shove them out the gates of Camp Delta and forget about them. The United States must take responsibility for rebuilding lives it has ruined.

Guantanamo's Uighurs Coming to the US?

(Originally posted on Daily Kos)

On Wednesday, Attorney General Eric Holder gave the first public indication that at least some of the Chinese Uighurs cleared for release from Guantanamo in September 2008, but unable to return home to China for fear of persecution, will be allowed to settle in the United States. His announcement followed the visit of the European Union’s Counterterrorism Coordinator Gilles de Kerchove to US.

De Kerchove is believed to have delivered the blunt message to the Obama administration that, unless the US demonstrated its good faith by resettling the Uighurs on American soil, it was highly unlikely that any European country would be prepared to help in the dismantlement of the Guantanamo prison camp by accepting other discharged detainees.

The Uighurs were among 22 Chinese citizens of Uighur descent who were captured near Tora Bora towards the end of 2001. The circumstances of their capture is unclear although former detainee Abu Bakr Qasim has claimed they were handed over to US forces for a $5,000 a head bounty.

The men are alleged to be militant separatists affiliated with the East Turkistan Islamic Movement (ETIM) who had received weapons training at a camp in Afghanistan with the apparent objective of fighting against China for Uighur independence.

None took part in hostilities against the United States nor bore any apparent animosity towards the west. Indeed, Abu Bakr Qasim told reporters that he had expected the US to be sympathetic to his people’s cause.

In May 2006 five of the original group were released from Guantanamo and resettled in Albania although one, Adel Abdu Al-Hakim, has subsequently been allowed to relocate to Sweden.

The US government finally conceded in September 2008 that none of the remaining Uighurs in Guantanamo could be categorized as an ‘enemy combatant’ and in October the US District Court ordered the Uighurs released. They have been trapped in limbo ever since with no country prepared to offer them a home for fear of angering China.

The saga of the Uighars has only served to underline the comments made this week by Lawrence B. Wilkerson, former chief of staff to Secretary of State Colin Powell, in a guest post on The Washington Note. Wilkerson lambasted the ‘utter incompetence’ of the battlefield intelligence screening process that saw so many individuals who posed no threat to US interests transferred to Guantanamo and proclaimed to the American public as ‘the worst of the worst’.

In Wilkinson’s words:

Several in the U.S. leadership became aware of this lack of proper vetting very early on and, thus, of the reality that many of the detainees were innocent of any substantial wrongdoing, had little intelligence value, and should be immediately released… But to have admitted this reality would have been a black mark on their leadership from virtually day one of the so-called Global War on Terror.

Hundreds of detainees have been held in Guantanamo for an unconscionable length of time in defiance of international law and notions of due process. Wilkinson estimates that only two dozen or so could actually be considered terrorists. The rest have suffered long enough. The Obama administration must set an example and put right a wrong that has cast a long shadow over America’s global reputation. It can start by offering the Uighurs of Guantanamo a new home on American soil.

Human rights advocate faces trial in China on eve of UN review

The New York Times reported yesterday that human rights activist Huang Qi was charged with illegal possession of state secrets. Huang was detained by plainclothes police last June after assisting the families of five primary school students who died in the earthquake in Sichuan, China last May. (The families believe local authorities are responsible for the poor construction of public buildings that collapsed and Huang was going to help them to bring a lawsuit.)

Huang Qi is considered the first webmaster in China to be sent to prison. In 1998, he set up the website to help family members locate missing relatives who disappeared after the 1989 Tiananmen Square protest. The website later included content about the plights of the Uighur minority in Xinjiang and the Falun Gong spiritual movement. Huang was detained, charged with “incitement of subversion”, tried in secret in August 2001 and imprisoned until June 2005. According to the court verdict, the prosecution’s evidence included reference to Huang’s posting of the Amnesty International report, The People’s Republic of China: Tiananmen – Eleven Years on (May 2000).

Huang Qi was not deterred by his time in prison – he returned to human rights advocacy after his release in 2005. But, this time around, his freedom was taken away before he could bring justice to the families who lost their children in the earthquake.

Internet censorship has become an all-too-common tool for government authorities to stop dissent and punish dissenters. China is about to face its first Universal Periodic Review by the United Nations Human Rights Council next Monday. The Council should be diligent in clearly documenting cases of suppression of dissent, like that of Huang Qi, in assessing China’s record on freedom of expression.

Obama to Close Gitmo

Barack Obama has announced that he will close Guantanamo. Throughout the world, this announcement will be understood as an introduction to a new kind of American leadership, a repudiation of the unilateralism of the Bush administration, and a return to diplomacy and the rule of law.

Guantanamo prison cell © US DoD

Guantanamo prison cell © US DoD

Closing Guantanamo will be a complicated process, which must be accomplished in phases. But the first step clearly is the settlement of the 50 or 60 detainees who have been cleared for release but have nowhere to go. These men have been called the “Guantanamo refugees.” Some of these men are stateless, but most of them simply can’t be returned to their home countries because their lives would be in danger there.

A number of European countries have recently indicated a willingness to take in some of the Guantanamo refugees. But the U.S. must also take some of them.

A group of 17 ethnic Uyghurs from western China have been at Guantanamo almost since its opening. From very early on, they were known to be innocent. In September 2008, a federal court officially cleared them of “enemy combatant” status. In October, Federal Court Judge Ricardo Urbina ordered them released into the U.S, where Uyghur-American families were waiting to take them in. Justice Department lawyers obtained a stay pending appeal to the Court of Appeals. The appeal was briefed and argued in late November. The Government argued that only the President has the power to order the transfer of detainees and their release into the U.S. The appeal has not yet been decided by the Court. As President, Obama should either dismiss the appeal and comply with Judge Urbina’s order or exercise his power as President to bring the Uyghurs to the U.S.

Get Ready to Close Gitmo and Stop Torture

President Bush signs the Military Commissions Act, October 17, 2006.

President Bush signs the Military Commissions Act, October 17, 2006.

As soon as the next president of the United States is elected, we’ll go live with an action calling on him to take immediate steps in the first 100 days of his term to close Guantanamo, eradicate torture and ill-treatment, and end impunity for human rights abuses.

Stay tuned and be ready to take action. We’ll need you to send emails and write letters to the president-elect.  Check back here or go to

Need inspiration? Check out The Video the CIA Doesn\’t Want You to See

Want to take action now? Help the Uighurs