If you’ve been blogging for any length of time, you’re bound to run into a news story that is so umm… “nuanced”, let’s say, that it is hard to make up your mind where the truth is. This appears to be one of those stories: simple on the surface, but roiling underneath.
Here’s the basic story line: the U.S. President and his Attorney General have decided to release seventeen Guantanamo prisoners into the United States population. This is a binary decision: release them here or leave them in Gitmo. No wiggle room.
The problem comes in attempting to decipher what the decision means and what the consequences, intended or otherwise, may be.
At first, my reaction to their probable release in Virginia or Washington, D.C. was the usual “say what?” Mostly I’m still there, but as I dug into the story, I found myself wavering. Are these men al Qaeda killers, are they simple goat herders unfortunately caught up in sweep of the area in Pakistan…or are they something else, some tertium quid we’ve yet to identify?
I’ll give you what I’ve found, leaving out the ranters on either end of the debates. The decision to release these men has generated widely diverging opinions; as is always true of political opinions these differences flow from opposed political philosophies. There can be “room for debate” but each side sings to the choir for the simple reason that we all work out our a prioris before we approach an argument.
Below this is Frank Gaffney’s report via video on the release of the Uighurs. Here is a brief bio on Mr. Gaffney, whose columns I read long before blogs were around. I always found him a careful parser of political doings in Washington:
Frank Gaffney is the Founder and President of the Center for Security Policy in Washington, D.C. The Center is a not-for-profit, non-partisan educational corporation established in 1988. Under Mr. Gaffney’s leadership, the Center has been nationally and internationally recognized as a resource for timely, informed and penetrating analyses of foreign and defense policy matters.
Mr. Gaffney is the lead-author of War Footing: Ten Steps America Must Take to Prevail in the War for the Free World (Naval Institute Press, 2005). With a foreword by former CIA Director R. James Woolsey, an introduction by Victor Davis Hanson…
Mr. Gaffney also contributes actively to the security policy debate in his capacity as a weekly columnist…
There are other thoughtful analysts who agree with Mr. Gaffney. Jed Babbin is one. He says:
White House lawyers are refusing to accept the findings of an inter-agency committee that the Uighur Chinese Muslims held at Guantanamo Bay are too dangerous to release inside the U.S., according to Pentagon sources familiar with the action.
This action — coupled with the release of previously top secret legal opinions on harsh interrogation methods — demonstrates the Obama administration’s willingness to ignore reality.
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Gitmo holds three classes of terrorist detainees: first, those that are held for prosecution of terrorist acts such as Khalid Sheik Muhammed; second, those who cannot be prosecuted and will be released or transferred to another country for trial or incarceration; and third, those who cannot be prosecuted (because the information against them is intelligence information inadmissible in court) but who pose such a danger that they cannot be released.
After Obama’s promise to close Gitmo, the White House ordered an inter-agency review of the status of all the detainees, apparently believing that many of those held would be quickly determined releasable. The committee — comprised of all the national security agencies — was tasked to start with what the Obama administration believed to be the easiest case: that of the seventeen Uighurs, Chinese Muslims who were captured at an al-Qaeda training camp.
The Uighurs sued for release under the Supreme Court’s Boumediene decision, which gave Gitmo prisoners the Constitutional right to habeas corpus. Last October, a federal court ordered their release into the United States, but an appeals court overturned the decision, saying the right to make that determination rested entirely with the president. Since then, Attorney General Eric Holder has said that some of the Gitmo inmates may be released into the United States.
Reviewing the Uighurs detention, the inter-agency panel found that they weren’t the ignorant, innocent goatherds the White House believed them to be. The committee determined they were too dangerous to release because they were members of the ETIM terrorist group, the “East Turkistan Islamic Movement,” and because their presence at the al-Qaeda training camp was no accident. There is now no ETIM terrorist cell in the United States: there will be one if these Uighurs are released into the United States.
Andrew McCarthy is of the same opinion as Mr. Gaffney and Mr. Babbin. In a New York Times article titled “Room for Debate” he was the lone dissenter among a host of liberals who think the Uighurs are just fine:
The Uighur saga nicely captures all the irrationality and hypocrisy of our counterterrorism approach. That policy foolishly holds that we can focus on terrorist activity without focusing on the jihadist ideology that motivates it.
So what happens? The military, which has released many terrorist operatives in the course of the past several years, saw the Uighurs as a group that could be unloaded. It took the position that they were “enemy combatants” but not America’s enemy, reasoning that these detainees’ dispute was with China. This contention was legally incoherent: one must be America’s enemy to be detained by the U.S. as an enemy combatant. It also showed a deep ignorance of jihadist ideology.
Relocating them in the U.S. would be irresponsible and fly in the face of the law.
In fact, the Uighurs were captured by coalition forces after the U.S. invasion of Afghanistan. Their presence there was not an accident: They had sought and received instruction in the paramilitary camps of the East Turkestan Islamic Movement, an al-Qaeda affiliate formally designated as a terrorist organization under U.S. law. Besides their training, at least some of the Uighurs are known to have fought against Coalition forces, and to have joined other terrorist detainees in protests at Guantánamo Bay.
Obviously, because the military’s position was untenable, it was appropriate for the reviewing federal appeals court to invalidate the enemy combatant designation – something Congress gave the court the power to do. But the judiciary did not have the power to order the Uighurs released, much less released into the U.S.
In fact, the federal REAL ID Act of 2005 provides for the exclusion of any alien who has received terrorist training or has belonged to an organization that promotes terrorism – against anyone. The Uighurs are excludable on both grounds, even if one accepts, for argument’s sake, that they were trained for the purpose of conducting operations against China.
Now, for the purpose of resettling this group, Mr. Obama may ignore statutory provisions – measures enacted precisely because paramilitary training has been a feature of virtually all attacks carried out by radical Islam against the U.S.
Clearly, we cannot send the Uighurs to China; our treaty obligations forbid transfer to countries where detainees are likely to be persecuted. Consequently, they should be detained until another country willing to receive them can be found. Relocating them in the U.S. would be irresponsible and fly in the face of the law.
Tch, tch…all these right wing extremists getting their feathers in a ruffle over a few terrorists hanging out in Virginia and Washington. What’s transnationalism good for if not for resettling the Uighurs within their own ethnic enclave, already established in the area?
Mr. Babbin follows up in a later article:
The first time… the White House overrode the inter-agency panel it created from all the national security agencies to review all the cases of the Guantanamo Bay prisoners. That panel found that the seventeen Uighurs — members of the East Turkestan Islamic Movement captured at an al-Qaeda training camp in Pakistan — were too dangerous to release in the United States.
Now — according to a federal agency source who requested anonymity — the White House has also overridden opposition to the release from both the FBI and the Department of Homeland Security.
Beginning yesterday and continuing today, Obama administration officials are briefing key members of Congress on the release, which may happen as early as next week. There apparently has been no decision on where the Uighurs will be turned loose. Earlier reports suggested they could be released in Alexandria, Virginia or Washington, D.C.
It looks like what Obama wants, Obama gets. Don’t forget: he won. Who needs experts when you’ve won all the marbles?
If these ‘detainees’ are released in the Northern Virginia area (known to the Baron, who lived there, as “The Wretched Hive of Scum and Villainy”) they will be most likely given over to the supervision of the existing Uighur community there, which has the largest concentration of Uighurs in the U.S.
The Diplomatic Courier has a background post on the Uighur, including instances of typical Chinese methods of handling its ethnic minority populations. This is a small snip, but please read the rest:
Uighur communities abroad have been urging their leaders to accept some, if not all, of the 17 detainees. On February 4, 2009, Canada vehemently denied that they were going to accept three Uighur men from Gitmo. [there is a Uighur community in Vancouver – D]
The reluctance to accept the Uighur is rooted in every country’s relationship with China. No one wants to pick a fight with China. In early January, the Australian Uighur Community pressed for acceptance. Australia has the third largest Uighur community totaling 2,000 refugees. The request was rejected a day later on the basis of the Aussie-Sino relations.
I found the news report on Australia’s refusal to take any of the Gitmo Uighurs. In essence, the story boils down to what the Diplomatic Courier claims – China’s pressure:
Australian Uyghur Association president Husan Hasan and secretary Ala, who did not wish to reveal his first name, said the Guantanamo detainees were not terrorists but fighting for the freedom of their land, East Turkestan, from Chinese rule.
“In China, there is torture and too much pressure on the Uyghur people. Recently, they laid off a lot of Uyghur people and filled all the jobs with immigrant Chinese,” he says.
“In the future, what will our next generation do? How will they survive? That is why I left my country to try to get something, get back and liberate my people and get our country independence. That is the reason we went to Afghanistan.”
Mr Ala said China was using the war on terror as justification to suppress the Uyghurs in China and vilify them abroad…
Here is the other point of view, also from the Times “Room for Debate”. This essay is from Deborah Colson, the acting director of the Law & Security Program at Human Rights First.
The Uighurs do not pose a security threat to the United States. Why, then, do they continue to languish in detention?
The Convention against Torture prohibits sending the Uighurs back to their native China, where they are at risk of arrest, torture, or even execution. Diplomatic efforts to resettle the Uighurs in a third country have not been successful in part because of early pronouncements by the Bush administration that all Guantánamo prisoners were dangerous terrorists. Despite the presence of Uighur communities in Los Angeles, San Francisco, Washington, D.C., and New York that have agreed to provide resettlement assistance, the Bush administration denied them entry into the United States.
The Uighurs petitioned their case to federal court, and in October 2008, a federal district court judge ordered their release. But in a disappointing ruling in February, the appellate court reversed the lower court decision. The circuit court acknowledged the government’s inability to put forth any evidence of the Uighers’ involvement with al Qaeda or the Taliban, but nonetheless concluded that the district judge had no independent power to require their release.
That ruling does not end the Uighurs’ case, nor does it preclude the possibility of resettling them on American soil. It simply underscores the urgent need for President Obama to act to do it himself.
President Obama is unlikely to succeed in closing Guantánamo without the cooperation of other countries. And that cooperation depends on a demonstrated willingness to reject flawed Bush administration policies and chart a new course. Resettling the Uighurs in the United States would send that message, and is central to getting other countries to accept some Guantánamo prisoners themselves.
Notice that Ms. Colson, who is a “human rights first” kind of girl, isn’t worried about the consequences to the American public or to our relations with China.
President Obama is willing to cross the Chinese in order to keep his promise to close Gitmo. Or at least to appear to do so. He’s even willing to put Americans at risk, just like Ms. Colson, despite the warnings of the experts he consulted.
Makes you wonder, doesn’t it, what he’s going to do if – or rather when – the Chinese come calling to body slam the American economy with all the economic punches it has behind its back?
This is a mighty strange plan that Mr. Obama and Mr. Holder have cooked up. Let’s wait and see if Congress has any objections to their ideas, or – as is more likely – they will fold before the card game even opens. Just remember, guys, a whole bunch of you are going to be facing re-election in the not-too-distant-future. Consider your moves carefully.
NOTE: Here’s an interesting tidbit I picked up in searching for information about the Uighurs. The irony here is that baseball, that all-American game, brings together two ethnic groups on China, even as the government works on eliminating the Turkic Uighurs.
Tibet has given China plenty of practice. And now they have Hong Kong back and a lot of new deep water naval vessels. Look for Taiwan to be on the menu soon. Watch Obama as he avoids eye contact over their table manners.