Guantanamo is the herpes of international politics, perpetually returning in new and embarrassing places.
Consider the 17 Uighur men that President Obama wants Australia to resettle. The Uighurs are an oppressed Islamic minority in China — as Amnesty explains, the persecution against them includes “arbitrary detentions, unfair trials, torture and executions.”
Not surprisingly, there’s an Uighur diaspora. These particular individuals fled from China to Afghanistan and then to Pakistan, where they were detained by US forces in 2001. Brought to Guantanamo, they’ve now been held for nearly eight years, a sentence longer than most prisoners would serve for rape or manslaughter. Of course, they’ve never been charged with anything, nor been offered a trial. God knows what’s been done to them in that time.
Their situation’s even more Kafkaesque since, for at least the last four years, the US has publicly admitted that the men are neither terrorists nor “illegal combatants”. Even under the Bush administration’s crazytown laws, there was no legal basis for the men’s ongoing detention. Or, to put it another way, they’ve been held illegally for seven years. So why aren’t they free? On the anniversary of the Tiananmen Square massacre, it shouldn’t be hard to understand why they can’t return to China, where they’d be detained under the laws pertaining to ‘splittists’ and, in all probability, executed.
But nor can they be released in the United States. The Republicans are currently running a scare campaign against the transfer of Guantanamo prisoners to American gaols, on the basis that the supermax cells that hold serial killers and other domestic no-goodniks would prove insufficient to prevent the oogety-boogety terrorists from wreaking their oogety-boogety terrorism on the US. In that context, you’d need a politician considerably more hopey and more changey than Obama to let Guantanamo inmates walk freely on American soil — even if they’ve, like, not done anything wrong.
Having thus refused itself to take the Uighurs, the US has been shopping the men around the world, reportedly offering them to an astonishing hundred countries. But no takers — and so now it’s Australia’s turn.
Foreign Minister Stephen Smith is, we learn, ‘considering’ the US’s request to resettle the Uighurs. Of course, accepting the men runs the risk of displeasing China, something the Rudd government has been to date rather loath to do.
More importantly, it would provide an opportunity for the national security Right to return to their favourite game of flinching at shadows. Malcolm Turnbull’s already begun. The US won’t take them, he asks — why should we? One might be tempted to ask whether, just because the US jumped over a cliff, the Liberals would, too — except, of course, we saw the answer to that in Iraq back in 2003.
Why should Australia resettle the Uighurs?
How about because it’s the right thing to do? They’re the victims of a monstrous injustice (seven years detention without trial!) and we could easily provide redress.
More than that, Australia played its part in establishing the whole War on Terror framework. If we’re ever going to return to traditional notions of law, we need to quash the demonological discourse about terrorism and return to prosaic matters like evidence and judges and juries. This would be a good place to start.
Greg Barns writes:
I don’t know where Opposition Leader Malcolm is getting his information from, but his statement over the weekend that Australia should not accede to a request by the Obama Administration to allow 17 Uighur detainees being held in Guantanamo Bay to enter the country because they might forge links with terrorist groups is simply false.
Mr. Turnbull told the ABC on Saturday that
There have been a number of people released from Guantanamo Bay, presumably because they were considered not to be a terrorist threat who have then subsequently appeared playing leading roles with Al Qaeda. That is a fact, that is an incontrovertible fact.
Well actually it’s not Malcolm. This statement is exaggerating the facts and is misleading, if one is to believe the Pentagon’s own figures.
Last Tuesday, the Pentagon released a statement indicating that of 530 former Guantanamo Bay detainees, 27 are confirmed to have re-engaged in terrorist activity, and 47 are suspected as having done so. That is, 14 percent of the total. And of this group of 74, less than 10 have assumed what Mr. Turnbull called “leading roles” in Al Qaeda.
Now what about the 17 Uighur detainees? Are Mr Turnbull and his Foreign Affairs Spokeswoman, Julie Bishop right to be striking fear into the hearts of the average Australian about their possible presence in our country?
The short answer is no. The long answer is no and that is because the US Courts have, on two occasions, examined the evidence against these men and found it to be vague and even where substantiated, it does not support a view that they are terrorists.
The US government has not presented any evidence that the 17 Uighur detainees, arrested in Afghanistan, had hostile intentions towards the US. In fact, according to documents filed with the US Supreme Court recently, one U.S. military official has stated that the Uighur detainee he investigated “ha[s] not developed any animosity towards the U.S. or Americans in general, and ha[s] great admiration for such a wonderfully democratic society, where human rights are protected and people are allowed to live their lives peacefully, with no threat of mistreatment.”
In addition, five former Uighur detainees who were released to Albania in 2006 and have not come to the attention of security authorities, and have lived there peacefully since then.
In the paranoid world of post 9/11 America, does Mr. Turnbull really think that the Obama Administration would even contemplate allowing these men into the country if they had not passed the most rigorous clearance from the security agencies?
Turnbull and Bishop’s opposition to these Uighur detainees is based on political fear mongering, and a complete ignorance of the facts, or even worse, a deliberate misleading of the Australian community as to what they are.