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Freedom in a Cage

Consider the Uighurs

by CHRISTOPHER BRAUCHLI

He compensates for lack of brain with compassion. Consider Mr. Bush’s treatment of the Uighurs.

Among the detainees at Guantánamo were five Uighurs captured in Afghanistan after 9/11. The men were natives of Xinjiang province of China. They had the misfortune to travel to Afghanistan before 9/11 for reasons having nothing to do with Osama bin Laden An even greater misfortune was their decision to go to Pakistan after 9/11where they were welcomed by villagers who invited them to dinner and then took them to a mosque where the men (who thought they were going to pray) were turned over to the Americans for an unspecified sum of money. The Americans sent them off to Guantánamo.

Once in Guantánamo the five men were subject to the mercy of the military tribunals that were set up by the Bush administration to help it decide whether the people it had imprisoned were enemy combatants. The military tribunal concluded they were not. Nonetheless, they were held at Guantánamo for an additional year because George Bush didn’t know what to do with them. If returned to China they were threatened with imprisonment because Uighurs have had a long standing conflict with the Chinese government over its treatment of Uighurs, whom it considers terrorists. Although Mr. Bush has no problem calling people terrorists or enemy combatants and then summarily depriving them of any rights, the law does not permit the him to repatriate prisoners to countries where they may be subject to the kind of treatment they were subject to when being watched over by Mr. Bush.

The question, therefore, was where could the men go. The obvious answer for the Uighurs was they should go to the United States since they were only 90 miles away. Mr. Bush did not think they would make good neighbors and did not want them coming here.

A state department official claimed that the United States asked more than 100 countries to let the five men stay with them and all of the countries refused. Some were afraid of offending the Chinese and others may have logically concluded that if the United States didn’t want them neither did they. One country was an exception-Canada.

The lawyers for the men were conducting negotiations with Canada to convince that country to grant them entry and resident status since that country has a large Uighur population and the men would have felt comfortable living there among their own people. Then a strange thing happened.

In addition to negotiating with Canada on behalf of their clients, the lawyers filed a lawsuit to compel the United States to let the men enter the United States. The case was heard in a federal district court and at its conclusion the judge said that the detention of the Uighurs was illegal and disgraceful but he lacked the power to force the government to admit the men to the U.S. The men appealed. The justice department did not want the appellate court to issue an opinion because (a) it did not want to be criticized by yet another court and (b) it feared that the court would enter a ruling requiring the government to deal fairly with those it had unfairly imprisoned by requiring it to admit them to the United States.

The appeal was scheduled to be heard on a Monday in May. Taking its cue from the criminal who, preferring freedom to conviction, gets out of town before he can be tried, the government got the Uighurs out of town before the court could enter an unfavorable ruling. The only country that was willing to accept the men in a big hurry was Albania. On the Friday before the Monday hearing the men were placed aboard an airplane surrounded by 20 armed guards, shackled to the floor of the plane in case they decided to become enemy combatants during the flight and shipped off to Albania.

With the men safely out of the country, the government rushed off to court and told the court the men were in Albania and, therefore, no longer subject to the court’s jurisdiction. The court agreed and dismissed the case. The government was relieved since it no longer had to fear judicial chastisement for its inhumane treatment of detainees.

In his most recent news conference Mr. Bush said: "if we ever give up the desire to help people who live in freedom, we will have lost our soul as a nation, as far as I’m concerned." Thanks to Mr. Bush the Uighurs now live in freedom in a barbed wire enclosed refugee camp in Albania where no one speaks their language. They get free room and board and 40 Euros a month. In addition to his brain, it would appear that Mr. Bush has also lost his soul. That news will not surprise the Albanian Uhguirs. No one else will be surprised.

CHRISTOPHER BRAUCHLI is a lawyer in Boulder, Colorado. He can be reached at: Brauchli.56@post.harvard.edu. Visit his website: http://hraos.com/