Representative J. Randy Forbes speaks of Chinese Uyghurs, Muslims captured in Afghanistan:
If we are fortunate enough to capture a terrorist who wants to kill innocent people, whether those people are innocent Americans, innocent British, innocent French, or innocent Chinese or some other nationality, if we’re fortunate to capture them before they kill those innocent people, we have two choices. The first choice we have is we can release them. The second choice we have is we can detain them.
Representative Jeff Miller agrees:
I ain’t never heard of a Uyghur before, until all this started coming up. And all I can tell is that they’re well fed, they’re healthy.
Their teeth are magnificent.
It would be hard to find a more militant group of Islamic warriors. They are aggressive in their hatred of communism, and they are fiercely pro‑American.
The Uyghurs are also a testament to conservative hostility against anything and anyone having anything to do with Islam.
Uyghurs have been under the domination of Communist China since Mao Zedong marched into Beijing in 1949. The Chinese government regarded the Tarim Basin, at the western edge of China, to be part of the People’s Republic. Uyghurs thought of themselves as a free and separate country, Eastern Turkestan. The Chinese government declared Uyghur separatists to be terrorists. Uyghurs regard themselves as anti‑communist, pro‑American, freedom fighters.
You can find Uyghurs all over Asia. They call Tarim Basin their homeland.
There was a time when Afghan insurgents were American allies. The United States channeled military weapons into their fight against Soviet occupation. That was when those Uyghurs who happened to be in the area joined up. They were happy to oppose the Soviet Union in league with the United States and their fellow Muslims. Members of the Taliban provided some of the training. Uyghurs did have one additional incentive. They hoped to take their new military knowledge back home for the fight for freedom against Chinese occupation and government oppression.
There was celebration after the Soviet Union withdrew and let the Afghan people have their country. Then the Taliban took over and provided shelter to Osama bin Laden’s extreme gang of thugs operating under a renegade offshoot of mainstream Islam.
After bin Laden’s September 11 attack on the United States in 2001, and the American invasion of Afghanistan, a reward was offered for turning in terrorists.
The problem with financial incentives is that shortcuts are sometimes taken. A fair number of terrorists captured were not terrorists at all. They had been falsely accused, turned in out of local grudges or pure greed. Not quite two dozen Uyghurs were among those accused and turned in for the reward.
They ended up in Guantanamo Bay.
The Bush administration quickly realized that a horrible mistake had been made. The Uyghurs were thoroughly investigated by military and intelligence experts and their innocence was confirmed. They were about as far from anti‑American terrorists as you could get.
The problem was finding a place to release them. The Chinese government wanted them back to be tried and dealt with as criminals. They made clear that any country wanting any relationship with China that was anything this side of overtly hostile had better treat the captives as terrorists. And that’s how they officially designated them: as terrorists.
After the American election in 2008, the new Obama administration began having a bit more success than the Bush administration had had. It still wasn’t easy. A few of the innocent detainees remained with no place to go. The administration wanted to experiment with placing a few in an existing Uyghur community in Northern Virginia.
Conservatives went ballistic. Obama was about to release confirmed terrorists to roam around right on the outskirts of Washington, DC.
Republicans knew they were terrorists for two reasons. The Communist government of China said they were terrorists. And President Obama said they were not.
…a terrorist who wants to kill innocent people, whether those people are innocent Americans, innocent British, innocent French, or innocent Chinese…
Newt Gingrich led the charge. He repeated the accusation by the Chinese government, calling the Uyghur prisoners terrorists. They should be sent back to China. If they were tortured by the Chinese government it should not be our problem. He demanded to know why Obama was so determined to coddle and release such dangerous people.
Rushan Abbas, a lawyer to the pro‑American Uyghurs, relayed a question from the Uyghur prisoners about Mr. Gingrich. It was a simple message:
Why does he hate us so much and say those kinds of things? He doesn’t know us.
In late December, 2013, the last of the innocent Uyghur captives found a new home in Central Europe. The Slovak Republic agreed to take them in. The Slovak government issued a statement. The Uyghurs, the official statement said, had:
“never been suspected of nor charged with a criminal act of terrorism”.
I thought about the long, needless, saga of the falsely accused Uyghurs as I heard the latest news.
During America’s occupation of Afghanistan, thousands of ordinary Afghans risked their lives helping American troops, diplomats, and agencies. For helping Americans, they have been targeted for death by the Taliban.
In 2009, a special visa program for Iraqis who had risked their lives helping Americans was extended to Afghanistan. Lives would be spared.
But this is an election year. Republicans in Congress don’t much care for refugees of any kind. They care even less for Muslims. And they make no distinction between pro‑American and anti‑American refugees. They do not care who risked their lives on behalf of the United States.
Republicans did agree that those who are risking death in Afghanistan and Iraq who were engaged in “sensitive” work for the United States, for them the promise of visas to safety will be a promise kept.
For those not in contact with sensitive work, well, life is unfair.
Like so much that comes from this Congress, the new standard of “sensitive” work seems like a perfect storm, a confluence of unfortunate conservative standards.
It is reflective of a new outburst of anti‑Muslim, anti‑refugee sentiment among the Republican base.
It is short‑sighted to the point of dull‑witted foolishness. What could be less in America’s interest than deliberately delivering into the bloody hands of our enemies those who had risked their lives to help us?
Most of all, most importantly, it is just plain wrong. The immorality is stark.
As wrong as it would have been to send innocent pro‑American Uyghurs into the torture chambers of mainland China.
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