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Guantánamo Uighurs Released to Palau: Six Men Flown to Temporary Home on Island Nation

October 31, 2009

Today, the Center for Constitutional Rights (CCR) and co-counsel Kramer Levin Naftalis & Frankel LLP issued the following statement in response to the release of three of their Uighur clients to the Republic of Palau:

Ahmad Tourson, Adel Noori, and Abdulghappar Abdulrahman arrived to freedom in Palau today, following nearly eight years of unjust and unlawful imprisonment in Guantánamo Bay, Cuba. The men, who are ethnic Uighurs from far-western China, were being held in Guantánamo despite having been cleared for release by the U.S. government years ago. Palau has generously and courageously agreed to provide a temporary home for the three men while the United States continues to search for a country where they can be permanently resettled.

“We and our clients are pleased that Palau has opened its doors and given Messrs. Tourson, Noori, and Abdulrahman a chance to begin rebuilding their lives in freedom,” said Eric Tirschwell of Kramer Levin Naftalis & Frankel. “Like their nine, non-combatant Uighur colleagues who were previously released from Guantánamo – five to Albania in 2006 and four to Bermuda earlier this year – these men want nothing more than to live peaceful, productive lives in a free, democratic nation safe from oppression by the Chinese. Thanks to Palau, which has graciously offered them a temporary home, they now have that chance. We hope that another country will soon step forward to provide them permanent sanctuary.”

“President Obama has achieved a major milestone in his effort to close Guantánamo, but the prison cannot be shut down until other countries agree to resettle those detainees who are unable to return to their home countries,” said J. Wells Dixon of the Center for Constitutional Rights. “There is an urgent need for countries like Australia and Germany to offer permanent refuge for not only the Uighurs temporarily resettled in Palau or still detained at Guantánamo, but also detainees from countries like Algeria, Libya and Tajikistan.”

Background

The three men fled their historic homeland in what is now the Xianjiang province of communist China to seek economic, political, and religious freedom elsewhere. That journey took them variously through Pakistan, Kyrgyzstan, and other neighboring countries, until they eventually reached Afghanistan. By late 2001, Ahmad Tourson and Adel Noori were working and living separately in Kabul. Abdulghappar Abdulrahman was living in a small village of expatriate Uighurs near the Afghan city of Jalalabad.

The outbreak of war in fall 2001 set in motion a series of events that would eventually take the three men thousands of miles away to Guantánamo Bay. After fleeing Afghanistan, Messrs. Noori and Abdulrahman were arrested by Pakistani bounty hunters and sold as purported terrorists to the U.S. military. Mr. Tourson was taken prisoner by the notorious Afghan warlord General Dostum and subsequently delivered into United States custody as well. The men would be held in Guantánamo Bay for the next eight years despite their insistence, from the beginning, that they were not terrorists and had, to the contrary, always viewed the United States as a beacon of hope and bulwark against Chinese oppression.

In 2008, following a ruling in the United States Court of Appeals, the United States for the first time publicly acknowledged that none of the Uighurs were enemy combatants and that there was no evidence justifying their imprisonment. Indeed, for years, the United States had sought to find a permanent home for these men. That proved to be a difficult task, as the Chinese government has leveraged its trade relationships to pressure governments around the world to reject the Uighurs. The U.S. government properly refused to send the Uighurs to the China, where they would be imprisoned, tortured, and possibly executed for their political and religious beliefs. As has been reported by the U.S. State Department and human rights groups, such reprisals are not uncommon in China, where peaceful expression of dissent and advocacy for political rights by the Uighur people are considered to be unlawful, “terrorist” activities.

Palau, which does not have diplomatic relations with China and is a strong ally of the United States, had the courage to step forward and provide a temporary home for the men.

“The men are happy at long last to be free,” said Mr. Tirschwell. “They have already begun learning English and look forward to becoming productive members of the Palau community, as the United States continues its diplomatic efforts on their behalf.”

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