U.S. transfers two Uighur detainees to El Salvador

Two Chinese Uighur detainees were transferred to El Salvador last week, three years after a federal judge ordered their release from Guantanamo Bay.

“We applaud the United States for transferring two Uighur detainees from Guantanamo who have long been cleared for release. These two men are perfect examples of unfortunate persons who were in the wrong place at the wrong time and got caught up in the nightmare of Guantanamo,” said Dixon Osburn, Director of the Law and Security Program at Human Rights First.

The two men, wrongfully detained for 10 years, were voluntarily resettled in the Central American country because their repatriation to China “would likely result in torture or worse.”

The Defense Department said the El Salvador transfer was conducted “in accordance with appropriate security and humane treatment measures.”

Their release marked the first detainee transfer from Guantanamo in more than 15 months. The Center for Constitutional Rights, which represented Uighur detainees in their habeas corpus lawsuits, noted that was “the longest period of time without a transfer since the prison opened in January 2002.”

Read more: Timeline of Uighur detainees wrongfully held at Guantanamo

The long gap may be attributed to Congressional interference. The National Defense Authorization Act of 2011 choked off funding to relocate detainees cleared for transfer. A year later, the National Defense Authorization Act of 2012 imposed even harsher restrictions on detainee transfers by requiring the Secretary of Defense to certify that the detainee would not be able to take any “action to threaten the United States, its citizens, or its allies in the future” after resettlement in another country.

As a result, 87 of the remaining 169 detainees at Guantanamo Bay are still being held even though they have been unanimously cleared for transfer by the Department of Justice, Department of Defense, Department of State, Department of Homeland Security, Office of the Director of National Intelligence, and the Joint Chiefs of Staff since 2010.

Background on Uighur detainees

Although the Defense Department did not release the names of the men who were transferred, the New York Times identified them as Ahmed Mohamed and Abdul Razak. They have been held in Guantanamo Bay without charge or trial for a decade.

They were 2 of 17 Uighur detainees who won their habeas corpus lawsuits in 2008. U.S. District Court Judge Ricardo M. Urbina ordered their release after the government failed to provide sufficient evidence to justify the Uighurs’ enemy combatant designation.

Read more: Status of Chinese Uighur detainees cleared for transfer

“Because the Constitution prohibits indefinite detention without just cause…the government’s continued detention of the [Uighur] petitioners is unlawful,” wrote Urbina.

Although Urbina granted the Uighurs’ release into the United States citing the length of their detention, the D.C. Circuit Court blocked the order, leaving it up to the government to negotiate overseas transfers and, thus, prolonged the wrongful detention of the detainees. The Uighur detainees are appealing the Circuit Court’s decision to the U.S. Supreme Court.

The Uighurs are a Turkic Muslim minority group, and they have long suffered religious oppression and persecution at the hands of the Chinese government.

Escaping brutal crackdowns in China, the Uighur detainees first settled in Afghanistan and then moved to Pakistan after the U.S. began its bombing campaign in 2001. Shortly after the Uighurs’ arrival in Pakistan, local villagers turned them over to Pakistani authorities. Then the Pakistani officials handed over the Uighur men and collected a $5,000 bounty for each men from the U.S. military.

The Uighur men were transferred to Guantanamo Bay in May 2002 even though they were not associated with Al Qaeda, Taliban or other terrorist groups that the United States was targeting in Afghanistan.

Even after Mohamed and Razak’s transfers, 3 Uighur detainees are spending their 10th year in Guantanamo in spite of Urbina’s order for their immediate release.


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4 Comments on “U.S. transfers two Uighur detainees to El Salvador

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