Uighurs’ Detention Conditions Condemned: Guantanamo update

Following up on a story posted here by Lisa in 2005, this morning’s WaPo has an update on the complicated legal limbo for 13 Uighurs turned over for bounty to US forces in Pakistan in 2002. The 13 are being held in isolation at the high-security Camp 6 section of Guantanamo base. Lawyers for the 13 this week filed a complaint requesting an expedited review of the Uighurs‘ confinement and legal status.

The Uighurs’…detention by the U.S. military, after being sold for bounty by Pakistanis in early 2002, has long attracted controversy. The men had just arrived from Afghanistan, where, they said, they had received limited military training because they opposed Chinese government control of their native region. But they said they never were allied with the Taliban or opposed to the United States, and had fled to Pakistan only to escape the U.S. bombing campaign.

By 2005, U.S. military review panels determined that five of the 18 captured Uighurs were “no longer enemy combatants,” but they continued to be held at the Guantanamo Bay prison until their release last year. The panels did not reach that conclusion about the other 13, though all had given similar accounts of their activities during the reviews, according to declassified transcripts of the sessions.

U.S. District Judge James Robertson ruled in December 2005 that the government was unlawfully imprisoning the Uighurs who were found not to be combatants.

Because China views Uighurs as members of a rebellious ethnic minority, the U.S. government declined to return the five men to China, where they faced retribution, and dozens of other nations refused to accept them. Ultimately they were sent last year from Guantanamo Bay to Albania, where they are housed in a compound run by the United Nations.

The affadavit filed on Monday expressed serious concerns about the conditions under which the men were being held:

In Camp 6, the Uighurs are alone in metal cells throughout the day, are prohibited for the most part from conversing with others, and take all their meals through a metal slot in the door, lawyer P. Sabin Willett said in his affidavit, which was based on what he was told during his visit Jan. 15-18. They have little or no access to sunlight or fresh air, have had nothing new to read in their native language for the past several years, and are sometimes told to undertake solitary recreation at night, he said.

“They pass days of infinite tedium and loneliness,” according to Willett’s court filing. One Uighur’s “neighbor is constantly hearing voices, shouting out, and being punished. All describe a feeling of despair . . . and abandonment by the world.” Another Uighur, named Abdusumet, spoke of hearing voices himself and appeared extremely anxious during Willett’s visit, tapping the floor uncontrollably, he said.

The account matches another offered by Brian Neff, a lawyer who in mid-December visited a Yemeni imprisoned in Camp 6. “Detainees in Camp 6 are not supposed to talk to others, they are punished for shouting, and if they talk during walks outside they will be punished,” Neff said in an e-mail yesterday. “We are extremely concerned about the . . . conditions of Camp 6 — in particular, the fact that the detainees there are being held in near-total isolation, cut off from the outside world and any meaningful contact.”

Officials at Guantanamo deny that the prisoners are treated inhumanely.

The men’s legal status remains depressingly bleak. Nobody wants to repatriate them to China and few other countries are willing to accept them. Granting them asylum in the US would seem too hot a political potato to merit consideration. Meanwhile, these men wait in a purgatory of isolated 10×10 metal boxes.

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Richard Burger is the author of Behind the Red Door: Sex in China, an exploration of China's sexual revolution and its clash with traditional Chinese values.

The Discussion: 4 Comments

Jeremiah, thanks for that update. This is a truly disturbing story, and it really bothers me to think that I posted about it more than a year ago and their condition hasn’t improved. How many years will this continue?

January 31, 2007 @ 9:45 am | Comment

There’s a really great episode of This American Life, called “Habeas Schmabeas,” on the Guantanamo Bay detentions. It’s not specifically about Uighurs, but it includes some interviews with released detainees. It’s is well worth a listen. You can look up the 3/10/2006 episode and get the streaming audio for free at http://www.thislife.org.

January 31, 2007 @ 11:09 am | Comment

Leah,

Thanks for the link. TAL is one of my favorite radio programs. I’ll be sure to check it out.

January 31, 2007 @ 11:43 am | Comment

Thanks for ruining my day with this unbearable depressing story. Let’s all think back to what our world was like pre-Bush and think about what history will say about this man and all the misery he left in his wake. None of it had to be. Once again, I feel deep shame for what America has done in recent years, and maintain my belief that good people will make it right once again. One foolish little man in a mere six years can’t reverse all that the US had achieved over two centuries – but damned if he didn’t come close. The fact that he is now universally detested, in America now as much as anywhere, gives me hope that we’ll bounce back.

January 31, 2007 @ 4:41 pm | Comment

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