Elements of China’s Uighur population, estimated at approximately ten million, have battled the central government for decades in their attempt to carve out an independent homeland, which they call East Turkistan, from the northwestern part of the country. Uighur terrorist groups, led by the East Turkistan Islamic Movement, gained worldwide attention last year for conducting deadly attacks that coincided with the start of the Beijing Olympics. China, in typical fashion, has cracked down on all Uighurs.
Members of the Gitmo-based contingent were captured in Pakistan after attending Afghan terror camps, where they admit to having received military training for the fight against Chinese rule. As the U.S. labors in vain to convince countries to repatriate citizens held at Guantanamo, China actually wants these prisoners back, determined to try them for separatist activities. But that is not going to happen. American officials refuse to turn them over out of concern for their future treatment. Previously released Uighurs were shipped to Albania, which will not take any more.
The trajectory of the remaining Uighurs has been subject to an extended legal dispute, with a recent court decision effectively leaving their fate up to the president. Reportedly ignoring the advice of an interagency committee empowered to review the status of all detainees, the Obama administration insists that because the Uighurs’ gripe is with China, not the United States, they will pose no security threat if let loose and “allowed to live freely” among Americans — a solution that some say violates U.S. law.
A portentous anecdote from the Times piece casts grave doubts on the government’s rosy picture by illuminating how these Uighurs’ “strict views of what is permitted under Islam” can translate into rage: “Not long after being granted access to TV, some of the Uighurs were watching a soccer game. When a woman with bare arms was shown on the screen, one of the group grabbed the television and threw it to the ground, according to the officials.” Since then the jailers have “bolted down the TVs and shown pre-taped programs, editing out any images they thought Uighurs might find offensive.”
The revelation that cleansing videos of stray female arms is required to maintain peace at the facility does not build confidence in the Uighurs’ readiness to coexist with life on the outside, especially in a nation where even the first lady goes sleeveless. Given the abuse meted out to that poor television set, one shudders to contemplate how this gang could react to a woman wearing a tank top on the streets of Virginia. Americans may soon find out, however, as another sultry Potomac summer rolls in and women prepare to expose far more than just their arms.
Sabin Willett, an attorney who represents several of the Uighurs, does concede that the pending release will prompt safety challenges — not from the jihadists, mind you, but from citizens who “might mistakenly consider them a threat,” as the Times puts it. “I fear political opponents of the Obama administration will try to sow fear and paranoia about the Uighurs,” Willett said, perhaps referring to those “right-wing extremists” tracked by the Department of Homeland Security. “Once America gets a look at our clients, all this mythology will fall away and America will feel ashamed at the fact they were in prison so long.”
Mr. Willett, America has no desire to get a look at your clients. And while there are plenty of reasons to feel ashamed about this whole episode, the lengthy incarceration of violence-prone radicals is not among them.
Nevertheless, Willett and company can rest assured that the administration remains quite focused on following through with its plan, driven by a belief that inviting the Uighurs to make a home for themselves in the United States “will set an example, helping to persuade other nations to accept Guantanamo detainees too.” But will the ultimate example prove positive — or horrendously negative? Do the potential rewards even approach the obvious risks?
Sometimes it seems we are all trapped inside a bad sitcom, one with no hope of cancellation for at least three and a half years.