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Bush and the Uighurs

An Encounter in Albania

by CHRISTOPHER BRAUCHLI

They were greeted somewhat differently. Fortunately the first to arrive did not witness the treatment accorded the second to arrive and so their disparate treatment did not add to their depression. Not that the first arrivals wouldn’t have enjoyed witnessing the arrival of the second. It would have gotten them out of the refugee camp. And since it was he who got them where they are, it would have been nice if the occasion of his arrival had given them a furlough, however short, from their otherwise desperate circumstances.

The different greetings were in Albania. When Prime Minister Sali Berisha greeted Mr. Bush he said Mr. Bush was "the greatest and most distinguished guest we have ever had." (That actually says more about the kind of people who visit Albania than it does about Mr. Bush.) Mr. Berisha did not bother to greet the Uighurs who had arrived some months earlier.

The Uighurs are a Muslim ethnic minority from the Xinjiang province in China. A few years before arriving in Albania they had been in Afghanistan for reasons that had nothing to do with Osama bin Laden. Following the events of 9/11 they decided to go to Pakistan where after a time they were invited to dinner by some villagers. At the conclusion of the dinner they were taken to a mosque where instead of praying with their newfound friends they were turned over to American forces in exchange for money and taken to Guantanamo.

While incarcerated there the panels that were set up to determine if they were "enemy combatants" concluded they were not and could leave if they could find somewhere to go. No one, it turned out, wanted them. They could not be sent to China since United States law says in essence that a person cannot be repatriated if the country to which the person is going will subject the person to the kind of treatment the person received at Guantanamo. The reason they would be subject to the Guantanamo-like treatment in China is that the Chinese consider them terrorists. Like Messrs Bush and Cheney, the Chinese have discovered that one way to avoid respecting a person’s human rights is to call that person a terrorist or enemy combatant. That designation causes all human rights otherwise accorded that individual to disappear into thin air.

Although admitting the Uighurs to the United States would have seemed like the obvious thing to do since they were only 90 miles away, that was legally impossible because of The Immigration and Nationality Act. The Guantanamo panel had determined that the men were neither terrorists nor enemy combatants but that didn’t matter. If someone who taught the would-be resident how to fire a weapon is, or might be, one of those people, that person is forever tainted in the eyes of Homeland Security and therefore ineligible to ever enter the United States. Only one country was willing to accept the 5 Uighurs. That country was Albania and that is the country to which the men were sent.

Placed aboard a plane, they were manacled and chained to the floor to prevent them from doing anything untoward on the flight to Albania. Upon their arrival Mr. Berisha did not greet them. Instead of red carpet treatment they were taken to a refugee center where they now live receiving free room and board and 40 euros a month. Armed guards attend them. They would like to earn more than 40 Euros a month but they have been told they can only obtain work permits and leave their quarters if they learn to speak Albanian.

According to a report in the New York Times, before Mr. Bush’s arrival the Uighurs were permitted to go to the offices of Sali Berisha to ask him to ask Mr. Bush to find them a new home. Mr. Berisha was unavailable but the men left their request with someone in his office. There is no indication that Mr. Berisha got around to passing the request on to Mr. Bush.

After he had wallowed in the adoration of the Albanian mob (one of the few people left in the world who would so joyously greet him) Mr. Bush left Albania. Before leaving he said something that would have cheered the Uighurs had they heard him. Speaking to Mr. Berisha Mr. Bush said: "You are writing an amazing chapter for history on freedom. It will be amazing to look back on all you’ve done. I congratulate you on it." The Uighurs would love to be co-authors of the chapter he described. Were that to happen they might get the freedom that Mr. Bush took away from them.

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