Wednesday, October 8, 2008

A Question for the Candidates

A federal judge has ordered the immediate release into the United States of a group of 17 Chinese Muslims who have been held in the U.S. military facility at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, for several years.

In 2001, just after the U.S. invaded Afghanistan, a group of ethnic Uighurs (or more correctly, Uyghurs) fled the country into neighboring Pakistan. Where they were captured and detained by the Pakistani military. U.S. intelligence became aware of the detention and subsequently judged the Uyghurs to be members of the East Turkmenistan Islamist Movement.

I written before how intelligence, especially in time of war and crisis, can go horribly wrong. This is something I know a great deal about, and have extensive experience with. And as you are about to see, that's exactly what happened here.

The name, East Turkmenistan Islamist Movement (ETIM), is a loose term used to describe ethnic Uyghurs who advocate the creation of an independent, self-governing nation, commonly referred to as East Turkestan or sometimes Uyghurstan, within the Xinjiang semi-autonomous region of the People's Republic of China. Xinjiang borders both Afghanistan and Pakistan. Here's a map for those of you not familiar with the geography:


Note: click on the image for a link to an interactive map in the World Atlas Online.

A bit of background regarding the Uyghurs. Following centuries of warfare, the Uyghurs, Kyrgyz, Uzbek, Kazaks, Tadjiks, and a number of other steppe peoples came under control of China. Following the Cultural Revolution, these people, and the largely Muslim Uyghurs in particular, were forced to assimilate into Chinese culture. The assimilation was strictly one way. Like all non-ethnic Chinese, the Uyghurs daily face religious persecution and extensive discrimination. Muslim Uyghurs have strict limits on the practice of their faith: they may only use a state-approved version of the Koran, they cannot wear beards or head scarves, and the state controls management of all mosques. Children under the age of 18 are not allowed to attend church or mosque, and religious figures may not hold state jobs or be teachers. Significant numbers of Uyghurs have been executed as enemies of the state.

Now in all fairness, China does have a historic claim to the Xinjiang region, dating back well over a thousand years - and a number of Uyghurs have engaged in acts of terrorism as we in the west define it. China says that the terrorists are hiding behind claims of humans rights and freedom of religion in order to perpetrate acts of terrorism and weaken the state's hold on the region - and there is some validity to this. However, there is also validity to claims that China has marginalized the Uyghurs using brutal repression.

Be that as it may, there is no question that members of the ETIM have used terrorism and violence against the Chinese, and as such the group was declared a terrorist organization in 2002 by the Bush administration under pressure by the Chinese government and in exchange for China's limited cooperation in the Global War on Terrorism.

Because of this designation, Pakistan turned the seventeen detained Uyghurs over to the U.S. who promptly detained them as terrorists at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba - where they've remained under guard until yesterday. That's about seven years, just in case you need help with the math.

Now understand something here, even if these people had been full-blown members of EITM, they committed no acts of terrorism against the United States or her allies. Their crimes, if any, would have been committed against China. However, China has lodged no international complaint against them. The men were apprehended fleeing the U.S. invasion of Afghanistan, which unless I'm completely off the rails here, is not a crime in anybody's books. Though crossing into Pakistan could be considered a crime under Pakistani law - but that would hardly be terrorism, especially if they claimed refugee status, which they did.

Nonetheless, they went to Gitmo as terrorists. Where after three years of interrogation, actual intelligence work, communication with China, and the efforts of Uyghur Human Rights Project in America - it was determined that the men were not in fact terrorists at all. Period. Just a bunch of unfortunates who got caught up in the struggle, and nothing more.

So we gave them an apology, a couple of bucks, and a first class ticket home.

Oh, wait, that's not right.

What actually happened is that because there is neither Constitutional administration or any kind of proper international oversight at Gitmo, we, well, we just kept them there.

That's right. They weren't terrorists, or criminals, or anybody who was any kind of threat to America, just a bunch of poor bastards who happened to be in the wrong place at the wrong time. But for the last seven years, four since we determined that they were nobodies, they've been held at Gitmo by the United States of America.

See, here's the problem. China wouldn't let them come home, and nobody else wanted them, and because the Bush Administration regards the Constitution, U.S. Law, international human rights agreements, and Habeas Corpus to be nothing but quaint outdated notions -they got to stay in jail. For four years. Four damned years because our leaders could not, and would not, admit their mistake.

For four years, seven if you count their detention prior to the determination of their status, these people have been held in military prison, without recourse, without representation, without the right to protest. We knew they were not terrorists, or criminals, or anything else - but we kept innocent people in jail simply because it was the easiest thing to do. We did that, not China, not North Korea, not Iran, us. The United States of America, land of the free, home of the brave, bastion of civil rights, and beacon of freedom to the world. Us. And if they weren't enemies of America going in, they sure as hell are now.

You have no idea how much this offends me.

No really, you don't.

I feel nothing but rage at the small tyrants who have stolen our country away from us and the ignorant tyrannical bastard in the White House who continues to perpetuate the abomination that is Guantanamo Bay and all the rest of the secret prisons. I've written extensively about this (here and here and here and here for starters), I've spoken out in person and on the Internet, and I will continue to speak out. I have written to my congressman, and my senators, and my governor, and the presidential candidates, and Jimmy Carter, and anybody else who will listen and I will continue to do so. This must not be allowed to stand. Those responsible must be held accountable under the law and the Constitution and I will not rest until they are.

Those of us who fought for this country swore an oath to uphold and defend the principles of the United States. We swore to give our lives if necessary to defend freedom, democracy, justice, and liberty, not just for Americans, but for all. These are not just words, but the very foundation of America, and they are the very reasons so many have given so much over the last two hundred years.

There are those who say that we cannot pull out of Afghanistan or Iraq or any of the other places we are currently engaged in - because to do so would mean that those Americans who died in the conflict gave their lives for nothing. This is one of the loudest conservative rallying cries against the Democratic presidential nominee. We must not tuck tail and run, because the sacrifices of the thousands of American servicemen killed in those conflicts would then mean exactly nothing.

Just as the ultimate sacrifice of 50,000 thousand servicemen in Vietnam came down to nothing when the last chopper lifted off from the roof of the U.S. Embassy in Saigon.

And they are absolutely right.

But what these same exact people fail to see, what they deliberately blind themselves to in their patriotic fervor, is that when we allow our leaders to hide away innocent men, when we allow secret prisons and secret tribunals, when we throw away the concept of habeas corpus, when we as Americans allow torture and unjust imprisonment - we spit in the face of every single American who swore to give their lives in defense of the Constitution and the principles of Freedom, Democracy, and Liberty for All. When we allow this to stand, we spit into the faces of Washington, Jefferson, Adams, Franklin, Paine, and all the men who fought and died and bled in order to create this country. We spit on our history and our principles and our flag. And this must not be allowed to stand.

I do not hate America, I love this country and the ideals it stands for - and I spent 23 years of my life proving it each and every day. But I am ashamed by what we have allowed ourselves to become. We must regain our honor and our dignity and our heritage if we are to continue to call ourselves Americans.

I watched the presidential debate last night, I watched the candidates and I listened to the sound bites, and I watched the Americans sitting like good little ducks in a row behind the speakers - and I wondered, which one of these men has the guts, the vision, the strength, and the honor to change the faulty course the last eight years have placed us on? I wasn't there and I didn't get to ask a question but if I were it would this: Senators Obama and McCain, what are your intentions? Will you uphold your oath to the Constitution and return America to a land of Honor, Justice, Democracy, Freedom, and Liberty? Will you restore our pride in ourselves and the admiration of the world? Will you?

But, I fear I already know the answer.


  1. High blood pressure. Teeth grinding. Cardiac infarction. Embolism.

    All these can be yours for the low, low price of becoming an informed American citizen.


  2. What's worse is that if we repatriate them, the Chinese will execute them. I say give them a green card or its equivalent and send them anywhere they want to go in the US, EU, or Canada.

  3. I believe that is the Judge's intention and he specifically ordered the INS to stay the hell away from them. Period.

    That guy belongs on the Supreme Court Bench.

  4. In case you haven't heard, A federal appeals court blocked the release in order to give the government more time to argue against the plan.

    Acoording to our fantabulous gummint, only the executive branch, and not the courts, may decide whether to admit an alien into the United States. The gummint further argued that the lower court's decision to free the detainees "threatens serious harm to the interests of the United States and its citizens by mandating that the government release in the nation's capital 17 individuals who engaged in weapons training at a military training camp." Gummint lawyers sfurther argued that the law forbids the detainees' entry into the United States.

    And to top it all off, the Justice Department said it wanted a ruling on the emergency stay by the end of Wednesday so it would have time to rush a further appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court on Thursday if necessary.

    Like you, I love my country, and while I didn't give the 23 years of service you did, I did freely give four years, and would do so again if needed.

    I love my country, but I purely despise my government as portrayed by the Bush administration.

  5. The candidates both say that they'll close Guantanamo. That could be a start. But I'm afraid I share you overall sentiment, Jim, all the way to the final conclusion.

  6. Vince, yeah I heard. Nice. The logic being if we send them back to china, china will kill them, and we don't want to let them go because um well we just don't, so we'll keep them in jail for their own protection. Apparently for the rest of their life.

    Seriously, Bush needs somebody to stand behind him and slap him in the back of the head every time he tries to say something stupid. Yeah, I know, that's a lot of slapping.

  7. Seriously, Bush needs somebody to stand behind him and slap him in the back of the head every time he tries to say something stupid. Yeah, I know, that's a lot of slapping.

    Actually, he needs to be in a maximum security prison with cellmate who will "encourage" Bush to be his girlfriend. His friends who are as culpable as he should join him in the same fate. Don't worry, there will still be a lot of slapping sounds.

    I can't say that I'm surprised by anything any longer. Shocked, yes, because this is an abomination that should not stand. But it's just one more abomination in a very long list of them.

    I need to go look at bunnies farting rainbows or something.

  8. Stupid? No, see, that's the real problem with the Bush Administration, fostered by the "aw shucks" illusion George Bush, this tongue-tied Ivy League graduate, has foisted off on the public with his "I'm just a guy you'd like to have a beer with" demeanor.

    "Stupid" would imply the Justice Department doesn't know or understand what their position means. And they certainly do know. Their position is cynical, lazy, unimaginative, and opportunistic--not to mention amoral. But they know what they're doing. And it's easier, from their point of view, to do nothing and hope things blow over. These aren't men in Gitmo, Jim, these are an accumulating tumor of mistakes and the sooner it's somebody else's problem, the sooner the bastards in the Bush Administration will be happier.

    They make reality, remember? When a Bush official said that, the general assessment was he was talking about lying. But there are a lot of ways to make reality. One is to pretend nothing is happening--and voila, nothing is happening. Ignore the problem and it goes away--and if somebody won't let you happily ignore it, then stall. There's not much time left on Bush's watch, anyway.

    This isn't jail for the Uyghurs's protection, it's for the Bushites' convenience. Because admitting that Gitmo is one ginormous cluster fuck (and here's an incontrovertible example), would be too much to confess.

    See, I love my country too, but this is an example of why I can understand Jeremiah Wright saying "God damn America." Because, well: damn us all to Hell when we do this and allow it to be done in our names.

  9. All empires fall. In time they all go the same way. From tyranny, to revolution to freedom, to heroic saviour of others, to greed, to complacency, to laziness, to apathy, to tyranny. It's a cycle. We're at the last couple stages. (The stages aren't hard and sure times, and meld into one another as they morph into realization).

    The US is no different from every other great empire in this regard, sad as that truth is. We will fall just like every nation before us. The hopeful part is that having had unheard of freedoms, and a form of government that was different enough from those before us, we made be able to rebuild with minimum damage.

    Then again...maybe not.

    I just pray the utter fall doesn't happen in my own children's life. Or if it does, let me be there to help through it.

  10. I don't know, after 7 years at Gitmo I wonder just how pro-western they still are.

    Damnit, I wish we would stop giving the enemy free points.

  11. Steve: according to this article--


    it looks like they still are pro-Western, or at least pro-American. Which makes our moral failing here even more depressing to me. How sad is it when your captor still comes off looking better than your homeland? Once again, America's tradition--that we are a refuge for those who treasure liberty and justice--is at odds with our actions (one recalls how we instituted immigration quotas in the 1930s that returned thousands upon thousands of Europeans back to Europe so that Hitler could eventually get around to murdering them).

    You're right about giving our enemies free points, though.

  12. (PS--yes, I know they might be lying to the reporters. Somehow I doubt it, but yes. I'm not THAT naive....)


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