Three members of China’s Uighur ethnic minority have been released from the US Guantanamo Bay detention center for terror suspects and sent to Slovakia, US officials said on Tuesday.
The three – Yusef Abbas, Hajiakbar Abdulghuper and Saidullah Khalik – became the last remaining Uighurs to leave Guantanamo after nearly 12 years in detention without trial . They were erroneously captured in Afghanistan, where they had fled to escape persecution in China, after the 9/11 terrorist attacks against the US and were taken to the Guantanamo prison along with some two dozen other Uighur captives over their suspected affiliation with the Taliban. They were brutally interrogated during the early days of their detention and subject to sleep deprivation, frigid temperatures and isolation in later years.
Eventually, however, the US Defense department came to a recognition that the Uighur detainees did not pose a security threat, and the State Department concluded that it could not remedy the detention error by sending the Uighurs back to China.
After a US court ordered their release and a panel appointed by the Obama Administration upheld the ruling, the Uighur detainees were transferred to a facility separate from the rest of the Guantanamo detainees. Their treatment was less severe, but they were not free men.
In 2006, Albania agreed to take five of the Guantanamo Uighurs, others were released to the United States and then went to live in different places such as Bermuda, the Pacific island of Palau or El Salvador. The remaining three that were still in Guantanamo refused to go to Palau or Bermuda and wanted to be closer to Uighur communities in other parts of Europe.
The diplomatic breakthrough came when Slovakia agreed to allow the last of Guantánamo’s Uighur population to “voluntarily resettle”, according to a statement from the Pentagon’s press secretary Rear Admiral John Kirby.
Obama promised to shut the Guantanamo prison during his first presidential campaign in 2008 and then again after his re-election for a second term. But five years later, the notorious jail is still open.