Imprisoned Uighurs stage rare public Guantanamo protest

Miami HeraldJune 2, 2009 

Two Uighur Muslim detainees at Camp Iguana, Chinese citizens captured in Afghanistan but cleared of enemy combatant status, stage a crayon and sketchbook protest on June 1, 2009 inside their detention center compound in this photo cleared for release by the U.S. military at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. A judge ordered them set free last year but the Obama administration has yet to find a nation to grant them asylum. "We need to Freedom. Do not oppress us," says one page of their protest poster book in a neck-down photo that U.S. military censors insist upon to make the men unrecognizable. The men staged the protest Monday afternoon and the military withheld permission for their release until Tuesday morning.


GUANTANAMO BAY NAVY BASE, Cuba — A group of Muslims from China awaiting a court-ordered release staged a self-styled protest inside their prison camp Monday, waving signs demanding their freedom written in crayon on their Pentagon-issued art supplies.

''We are the Uighurs,'' said one sign. "We are being oppressed in prison though we had been announced innocent.''

Another: "We need to freedom.''

The U.S. government has for months been seeking a nation to offer asylum to some 17 Uighurs with Chinese citizenship who fear persecution and perhaps torture if they are returned to their communist-controlled homeland.

Attorney General Eric Holder has said he was willing to resettle some in the United States. But some members of Congress have rebelled, casting them as terrorists and creating a deadlock on the future of the men whom a federal judge ordered released from these remote prison camps in October 2008.

Instead, the military moved the men to a small razor-wire ringed compound called Camp Iguana, away from the 220 foreign captives here still held as enemy combatants. As detainees approved for release, they have been receiving increasingly greater liberties -- such as weekly telephone calls, takeout fried chicken and pizza and a wooden hut set aside to serve as a mosque.

Monday, they staged the polite protest for about five minutes for visiting reporters before guards hustled the journalists away.

''As you can see, they are pretty much free men,'' said a Navy chief who supervises sailors guarding the men at the half-acre compound. He called the protest ''their own doing,'' and permitted a dozen reporters visiting the prison to film the signs.

Unclear Monday evening was how much of the video would survive a censor's review.

Frustrations had been building at Camp Iguana across days of visits by both attorneys and reporters seeking to document what may prove to be the last days of the controversial prison camps, which President Barack Obama has ordered emptied by Jan. 22.

At one point Monday, one of the Uighur men called out: "Obama didn't release us. Why?''

Last week, the group approached a visiting TV crew and asked to deliver an oral statement. Guards waved them off, saying that U.S. military censors would destroy any such images.

The U.S. military says it seizes and destroys photos of detainees, even those in which the captives pose for news photographers, under an interpretation of the Geneva Conventions that shields prisoners of war from public humiliation.

Prison camp commanders have been seeking to afford the Uighurs greater freedoms short of giving them the run of the 45-square-mile base that has a port, airstrip, harbor and school system for sailors' children.

For example, the military has ordered 20 laptop computers to let the men set up a virtual computer lab and acquire some DVD-driven high technology skills in anticipation of their release.

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