The Story of the Uighar Captives at Gitmo

Via Conor Friedersdorf, I’ve come across an astonishing series of blog posts by Hilary Bok that track the story of the 17 Uighar captives in Guantanamo Bay. (It’s in six parts: 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6). You should read the whole series, which forthrightly defends these captives from the lies that have been hurled at them in the media. But the bottom line is this:

The short version is: the Uighurs are refugees from China who wound up in a village in Afghanistan affiliated with a group called the East Turkestan Islamic Movement. Some wanted to resist Chinese rule; some were just trying to get away from Chinese oppression; one was trying to go to Turkey and couldn’t get a visa. They were not trained by al Qaeda. There is no evidence that any of them had anything against the US, or ever acted against us. The village was bombed, and they fled and were turned in by bounty hunters.

Even the Bush administration’s Combatant Status Review Commissions, which were heavily slanted towards the government, found them not to be enemy combatants. (The government had decided that some of them were not enemy combatants even before their CSRT hearings.) Despite that fact, we have kept them in prison for over seven years. (After they were cleared in 2003, they could not be released back to China, since they would be tortured or killed.) That’s a very long time to be locked away without having done anything. Some of them have children they have never met. Their wives and families did not know that they were alive for several years.

They are still detained. Right now. Do you know what makes this particularly tragic? This snippet from a 2004 FBI report regarding the Uighar captives.

The Uighurs are moderate Muslims who occupied East Turkestan, which was taken over by the Chinese and renamed the Xinjiang province of China. The Uighurs were offered land in Afghanistan in order to gather personnel opposing Chinese oppression. They were often inspired by Radio Free Asia, which [redacted] was often a broadcaster for. The Uighurs considered themselves to be fighting for democracy, and they idolized the United States. Although the Uighurs are Muslim their agenda did not appear to include Islamic radicalism.

FILED UNDER: Democracy, National Security, Terrorism, , , , , , , , , , , ,
Alex Knapp
About Alex Knapp
Alex Knapp is Associate Editor at Forbes for science and games. He was a longtime blogger elsewhere before joining the OTB team in June 2005 and contributed some 700 posts through January 2013. Follow him on Twitter @TheAlexKnapp.


  1. Ben says:

    Interesting that there are no comments on this story. In the previous thread, all of the cons were shouting out for you to produce evidence of innocent men still in Gitmo. Now you’ve provided some, and they’re just avoiding this post like the plague. Sickening.

  2. Steve Plunk says:

    Let’s throw out that FBI report. Sure maybe the most of the Uighurs are moderates and like the United States but what about these particular ones? Okay then, we have one blogger’s opinions. We know a review committee determined they were not enemy combatants but are they terrorists? What interest does the United States have in detaining them? Why were they in Afghanistan? Sightseeing? Cultural exchange during a war?

    See that’s the thing, there are too many unanswered questions to assume these are innocent players. In the grand scheme of things we could say they are lucky to be alive after bumming around in Taliban country.

    This is like a criminal trial but we are only getting the argument of the defense. There’s a whole other side of this story that the military knows and has no obligation to tell us. Have any congressmen investigated this? How about Mr. Hope and Change? Wouldn’t he want to fix this supposed tragedy? I’m sure there are few who would like to take something like this to the press if in fact they are innocent.

    Skepticism cuts both ways when it comes to how our government operates. I’ve always found it’s where interests lie that you substantiate and confirm competing stories. There’s still not enough here to make a conclusion.

  3. Steve Plunk says:


    Before you get too sickened let me explain I avoided this post because the entire topic is a tiresome attempt to discredit a policy that has no reasonable alternatives. Alex has a bone to pick over this and that’s okay but it has reached the point of incessant pounding on the table.

    Our military, intelligence services, congress, and administration are all looking at these things every day. They love to poke at each other and therefore I think we have a policy that works as well as we can expect. The gotcha moments are not there.