[Ppnews] A Letter to Obama From a Guantánamo Uighur

Political Prisoner News ppnews at freedomarchives.org
Fri Mar 27 14:38:39 EDT 2009


March 27-29, 2009

"Life is Very Hard, and Our Future Seems Far Away"

A Letter to Obama From a Guantánamo Uighur


There were once 22 Uighur prisoners in 
Guantánamo. Muslims from China’s oppressed 
Xinjiang province, they had all been swept up as 
human debris during “Operation Enduring Freedom,” 
the US-led invasion of Afghanistan that began in 
October 2001. The majority of these men were 
seized after fleeing to Pakistan from a run-down 
settlement in Afghanistan’s Tora Bora mountains, 
which had been hit in a US bombing raid. 
Initially welcomed by Pakistani villagers, they 
were then betrayed and sold to US forces, who 
were offering $5000 a head for “al-Qaeda and Taliban suspects.”

None of the men had been in Afghanistan to 
support al-Qaeda or the Taliban, and none had 
raised arms against US forces. They all 
maintained that they had only one enemy -- the 
Chinese government -- and explained that they had 
ended up at the settlement either in the hope of 
finding a way of rising up against their 
oppressors, which was unlikely, as the settlement 
was dirt-poor and had only one gun, or because 
they had hoped to travel to other countries in 
search of work -- primarily Turkey, which has 
historic connections to the people of East 
Turkestan (as the Uighurs call their homeland) -- 
but had been thwarted in their aims.

In May 2006, five of the 22 were freed from 
Guantánamo, after being cleared in a military 
review, and sent to live in a refugee camp in 
Albania, the only country that could be persuaded 
to accept them after the US authorities 
acknowledged that they would not return them to 
China, where they faced the risk of torture. For 
the other 17, justice was to prove more elusive, 
and it was until June 2008, in the wake of a 
Supreme Court ruling confirming that the 
Guantánamo prisoners had habeas corpus rights 
(the right to challenge the basis of their 
detention in court), that an appeals court in 
Washington ruled that the government had failed 
to establish a case that one of the men -- 
Huzaifa Parhat -- was an “enemy combatant.”

In the wake of the ruling, the government gave up 
attempting to prove that the other 16 Uighurs 
were “enemy combatants,” and when their case came 
up before District Court Judge Ricardo Urbina 
last October, he ruled that their continued 
detention was unconstitutional, and that, because 
no other country had been found that would accept 
them, they were to be admitted to the United 
States, to the care of communities in Washington 
and Tallahassee, Florida, who had prepared 
detailed plans for their resettlement.

This proved intolerable to the Bush 
administration, which appealed the decision. The 
Justice Department spouted unprincipled claims 
that the men were a threat (even though they had 
been cleared of being “enemy combatants”), and 
refused to acknowledge that a judge had the right 
to order the men’s release into the United 
States, thereby robbing the Supreme Court of a 
key element of the powers it intended to grant to 
the lower courts when it confirmed, in June, that 
the prisoners had habeas corpus rights.

Despite its manifest weaknesses, the government’s 
appeal -- in a court that had a history of 
backing up cases relating to the “War on Terror” 
that were later overruled by the Supreme Court -- 
was successful. This is the situation that 
prevails to this day, although on Monday the 
Uighurs’ lawyers announced that they planned “to 
petition the US Supreme Court to intervene on 
their clients' behalf,” and, perhaps even more 
significantly, last week it was reported that the 
Obama administration was “set to reverse a key 
Bush administration policy by allowing some of 
the 240 remaining Guantánamo Bay inmates to be 
resettled on American soil.” As the Guardian 
described it, “Washington has told European 
officials that once a review of the Guantánamo 
cases is completed, the US will almost certainly 
allow some inmates to resettle on the mainland.”

If confirmed, it is possible that these men will 
include some, or all of the Uighurs, but in the 
meantime Abu Bakker Qassim, one of the five 
Uighurs freed in Albania in 2006, who left his 
pregnant wife and young son in a thwarted attempt 
to find work in Turkey, has just written a letter 
to President Obama, telling his story and 
appealing to the President to act on behalf of 
the remaining Uighurs in Guantánamo.

The letter was made available by Sabin Willett, 
one of the Uighurs’ attorneys, and is reproduced below:

Abu Bakker Qassim’s letter to Barack Obama

Dear Mr. President,

I express my gratitude and my best respect for 
the contribution of the United States of America 
to our Uighur community. At the same time, I 
express my gratitude for your right and prompt 
decision to close the jail of Guantánamo Bay. I 
hope you will forgive my English, which I have tried to learn.

I hope my letter will find you in a good health. 
Please allow me to express my wish and prayer to read my letter.

My name is Abu Bakker and I’m writing on behalf 
of Ahmet, Aktar, Ejup, with whom I have lived 
since May 2006 in Albania, the only country that 
offered us political asylum from Guantánamo when 
US courts concluded that we were not enemy combatants.

I would like to write something about myself. The 
Uighur people have a proverb: “Who thinks about 
the end will never be a hero.” Obviously it is 
human to think about the end, as it is human for 
me to remember things long ago.

30.12.2000. My last night in my little home. No 
one was sleeping 
 not even my eight-month twins 
in my wife’s womb. No one was speaking 
 even my 
two-year old son 
 I had decided that I would 
confess that night to my wife the end I had 
thought of in my heart, but I hesitated because 
of a question my son had asked me, that I could 
not answer. It was at the beginning of winter. We 
were standing near the oven, and I was cuddling 
his hands. He took with his little hands my forefinger.

Dad! Is a fingernail a bone?

No, I said. The fingernail is not a bone.

It is flesh?

No. Neither is it flesh.

So, the fingernail: what is it, Dad?

I didn’t know.

I don’t know, I said.

So small was my boy, and I couldn’t answer his 
questions. And when he grows up and the questions 
are not about the fingernail? How shall I answer then?


Without telling the end, without turning back my 
head, without fear I started my long and already 
known way. “Ah, if only 
! Ah, if only I reach 
Istanbul, am hired in the factory, to work day 
and night, to save my self and money. God is 
great! Ah, if only I could bring my wife there, 
my son and -- the most important -- to see my 
twins for the first time in Istanbul. To hold 
them on my breast, to pick up as I could 
show my son and to tell to them: We are from the 
place where the sun rises. I would embrace them, 
I would answer all of their questions, I would 
teach to them everything my mother taught me, as 
her mother taught her, to my grandmother her 
 as though in a movie with a happy 
ending: me film director, me scenarist, me at the 
lead role. The hero of my dearest people 

After three years and a half, questions after 
questions, the military tribunal in Guantánamo asked me:

If you will die here, what will you think at your last minutes?

I’m a husband and a father that is dying in the 
heroism’s ways, I answered and I asked the 
permission to put a question of my own.

If Guantánamo Bay were closed today, would you be a hero for your children?

I was proclaimed innocent. The lawyer proposed -- 
meantime we were waiting for a state which will 
accept us -- to live in a hotel in the Military 
Base of Guantánamo Bay. No way! We were put in a 
camp near to the jail, which was called “Iguana 
Camp.” We were nine. Sometimes, one of my friends 
asked the soldiers about the time. Even today, I 
hadn’t understood why he needed to know the time. 
I asked the time 
 I had reasons 

In Camp Iguana, there were iguanas. We fed them 
with bread, so they began to enter in our 
dormitory. All of us needed their company. 
Sometimes, when they were late, everyone missed them 

One morning, I had an unforgettable surprise from 
my friends. They gave to me cake from their meal, 
since that day was my twins’ birthday. The same 
day, in our dormitory entered two iguanas and I 
give to them the cake 
 thinking about my kids 
thinking about my end 
 My dream finished from 
Istanbul to Guantánamo, from my kids to iguanas 

Finally in 2006 I arrived in Albania, my second 
homeland. The ring of the telephone! What 
anxiety! Are they alive? For the first time, I 
spoke with my wife and my kids. They were alive!

Every morning, I go out of my home before the sun 
rises and wait for him with the hands up and 
empty. Since I’m still from the country where the 
sun rises. I think about the family which perhaps 
I will never see again and I resolve not to 
forget my vow, seven years ago, to be their hero.

Yet, Mr. President, seventeen of my brothers 
remain in that prison today. It is three years 
since I left the prison, and still they are 
there. Please end their suffering soon. Your 
January 22 words were so welcome to us, and I 
congratulate you for that and for your historic 
election. But many months have passed.

For the four of us who remain in Albania (one of 
us is in Sweden today, trying for asylum), life 
is very hard, and our future still seems far 
away. I hope that one day soon your government 
and countrymen will meet our seventeen brothers. 
Maybe when that day comes there would be hope 
that we might come to America too.

Mr. President.

In life not everyone will reach his desired end. 
Perhaps you don’t know, but we are similar 
Except as to the end. Since you, like me, without 
thinking about the end of your long way, managed 
to be a hero 
 I’m at your side 
 I’m proud of you 

Mr. President.

Please allow me to share with you a thought. Gift 
a pair of shoes to every child, to every woman, 
or every barefoot man since the barefoot people 
doesn’t think too much before walking on the 
dirty mud. Begin with everything from above.

Very truly yours,

Abu Bakker Qassim

Tirana, Albania
March 24, 2009

Andy Worthington is a British historian, and the 
author of 
Guantánamo Files: The Stories of the 774 
Detainees in America's Illegal Prison' (published 
by Pluto Press). Visit his website at: 
He can be reached at: 
<mailto:andy at andyworthington.co.uk>andy at andyworthington.co.uk

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San Francisco, CA 94110

415 863-9977

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