December 31, 2013, New York – Today, the Center for Constitutional Rights (CCR) issued the following statement in response to the transfer of the three remaining Uighur detainees from Guantánamo Bay to Slovakia:
We are grateful to Slovakia for resettling the three remaining Uighurs from Guantánamo, ending one of the most tragic chapters in Guantánamo’s twelve-year history. This is a profound humanitarian gesture toward three men the U.S. government long recognized were innocent of any wrongdoing and never should have been brought to Guantánamo. Unfortunately, their release was delayed for a decade during which they endured terrible physical and psychological abuse at Guantánamo.
It is important to remember that the Uighurs were pawns in a geopolitical saga that involved an agreement by the United States to hold them as “terrorists” in exchange for China’s agreement not to interfere with U.S. efforts to obtain a UN Security Council resolution that would pave the way for the U.S. invasion of Iraq in March 2003. It is especially heartbreaking that when the Uighurs were turned over to U.S. forces following the invasion of Afghanistan, they thought they had been saved. They viewed America as the only superpower capable of standing up to China, and thought that they would be treated fairly and humanely. Sadly, they came to symbolize the tragedy of Guantánamo.
The Uighurs could not safely return to China, where they would suffer persecution and likely summary execution, and were unable to obtain safe refuge in Canada, Germany, Australia or a handful of other countries with sizeable expatriate Uighur communities, due to the stigma of Guantánamo and unrelenting diplomatic and economic pressure from China. As a result, in October 2008 U.S. District Judge Ricardo Urbina granted the Uighurs’ habeas corpus petitions and ordered their release into the United States. The order was stayed pending appeal, and the D.C. Circuit reversed. The Supreme Court ultimately declined to intervene.