[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
By ANDY WORTHINGTON
There were once 22 Uighur prisoners in
Guantánamo. Muslims from Chinas 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 Afghanistans 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 mens 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 governments
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 Qassims 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 Im 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 wifes womb. No one was speaking
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 didnt know.
I dont know, I said.
So small was my boy, and I couldnt 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?
Im a husband and a father that is dying in the
heroisms 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
hadnt 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 Im 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.
In life not everyone will reach his desired end.
Perhaps you dont 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
Im at your side
Im proud of you
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
doesnt think too much before walking on the
dirty mud. Begin with everything from above.
Very truly yours,
Abu Bakker Qassim
March 24, 2009
Andy Worthington is a British historian, and the
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
522 Valencia Street
San Francisco, CA 94110
-------------- next part --------------
An HTML attachment was scrubbed...
More information about the PPnews