|No Direction Home -- One Uighur's
Journey From East Turkistan To Palau, Via Gitmo
TPMmuckraker Presents: No Direction Home -- One Uighur's
Journey From East Turkistan To Palau, Via Gitmo
By Zachary Roth
Here at TPMmuckraker, we've been thinking about pitching
an idea for a screenplay. It's sort of a Harold and
Kumar Escape From Guantanamo Bay meets The Kite Runner
You have to put yourself in the shoes of the
- When the movie opens, you're an ordinary Uighur,
minding your own business.
- But you're tired of being a member of an oppressed
Turkic Muslim minority living in northwest China -- a
region you call East Turkistan. So you flee to
Kyrgyzstan, then to Pakistan and Afghanistan, where you
get training in the use of small arms, which you maybe
intend to use to fight for Uighur independence from
China. Your feelings about America, to the extent that
you have any, are generally pretty positive.
- But you have the bad luck to be in Afghanistan just as
the US is invading the country in 2001 in response to
the 9/11 attacks. After the invasion, you flee to
Pakistan, where you're picked up by bounty hunters,
turned over to the Americans, and eventually taken
across the world to the Guantanamo Bay detention
- After almost seven years of often extremely harsh
treatment, a judge orders that you be set free, because
even the Bush administration can no longer viably argue
that you're a threat to the US.
- It seems for a while like you might be be resettled to
northern Virginia, where there's already a Uighur
community, which sounds nice. But Republican politicians
-- and a few scared Democrats -- decide to pretend, for
political reasons, that this plan would represent some
kind of grave terrorist threat to the people of northern
Virginia, so that doesn't work out.
- The American government contacts about 100
governments, looking for one that will take you. But no
one wants the hassle, it seems. This is sort of hurtful,
but even worse, you fear you might end up back in China,
where you'll probably be tortured.
- But eventually, your lawyers tell you they've found a
country that'll take you, at least temporarily: the
island nation of Palau. You're really glad to be leaving
Gitmo after so long, but you've never heard of Palau and
have no idea where it is.
- Still, you're able to learn a few things about it from
the internet. Your potential new home only has 20,000
people, you learn, making it one of the least populated
countries in the world! And it's divided into hundreds
of islands: 8 main ones, and 250 smaller ones. A lot of
people support themselves through fishing or farming.
- It hosts US military facilities, in return for
hundreds of millions of dollars in aid from the US. In
fact, the US government just gave Palau another $200
million. Now it's making sense!
- In fact, it looks like Palau was even a member of the
American-led coalition that started the war in Iraq. But
it doesn't seem like they'd have a very powerful army,
so you look to see what else they did. And it turns out
that all they did was write a letter to George Bush
saying they thought the invasion was a good idea! They
offered their harbors and airports, but Palau is nowhere
near Iraq, so they weren't used. Then some government
official went on an American comedy TV show called The
Colbert Report to brag about it. Some help they were!
Still, this is weird.
- The most worrying thing though: it looks like most
people on Palau are Christians, and it's not even
certain that there are any mosques there, which will
make it difficult to continue to practice your religion.
Still, some government official from Palau says it's a
"paradise." So maybe it won't be so bad.
- So it is that in the movie's final scene, with a mix
of relief and trepidation, and mostly complete
confusion, you set off from Cuba, across the Pacific for
your new home in Palau.
We're thinking maybe Gael Garcia Bernal for the lead, if
we could make him look a little more central Asian.
The hard part is gonna be convincing anyone that this is
plausible enough for a movie.
If it wasn't so tragic, it surely sounds like a
WHAT KIND OF RESTITUTION DOES THE US HAVE TO PAY THSE
POOR 17 GUYS FOR ALL THE DAMAGE DONE TO THEM????
They are the ones that deserve a BAILOUT!
Posted by Alguien
June 11, 2009 2:04 PM | Reply | Permalink
I think Wil Smith could play President Obama and either
Wallace Shawn or Joe Pescipo could be the Veep. But with
so many islands, would each Uigher get his/her own (just
like Cast Away) or would they be together (just like
Lord of the Flies)? I think this story has lots of
potential: it could be a whacky colliding-cultures (a la
The Russians are Coming! The Russians are Coming!),
classic western farce (The Three Amigos come to mind) or
even, romantic comedy (Moon over Parador?). The mind
Posted by erwin
June 11, 2009 2:46 PM | Reply | Permalink
Not to mention that you can never, ever become a
citizen, because the Palauan constitution prohibits the
naturalization of anyone not Palauan by blood. Even
being adopted by a Palauan won't work.
Posted by Jonathan Edelstein
June 11, 2009 2:47 PM | Reply | Permalink
That's crazy. Any idea if major rights are denied to
Posted by Versha Sharma in reply to a comment from
June 11, 2009 3:34 PM | Reply | Permalink
Non-citizens can't own land (it's actually in the
constitution), can't become shareholders in companies
that own land (ditto), can't vote or hold office, and
can be deported from the country at any time. In
practice, they also have a very hard time getting
business permits, although as far as I know, there's no
law against it. The Uighurs will most likely be
consigned to the underclass, although the possibility of
management-level jobs working for others may be open to
I suspect, BTW, that the naturalization and land
ownership provisions in the Palau constitution were
designed with the examples of Guam and the Northern
Mariana Islands in mind. In both Guam and the CNMI, the
indigenous Chamorro have become a minority due to
immigration from Asia, the continental US and other
Pacific islands. Palau also has a much higher living
standard than the rest of what was once the Trust
Territory of the Pacific Islands and is also wealthier
than the Philippines (which was the source of much
immigration to Guam and the CNMI). While I'm not privy
to what happened at the constitutional convention, it
wouldn't surprise me if these provisions were inserted
to "protect" indigenous political primacy and land
tenure against a perceived demographic threat.
Regardless of the reason, though, the law is racist in
practice and (as in the case of the adopted children)
has resulted in injustice.
Posted by Jonathan Edelstein in reply to a comment from
June 11, 2009 4:03 PM | Reply | Permalink
I don't think this is something we should be joking
about. We kidnapped these people and turned them into
pariahs. They should at least be allowed to live, on a
generous government dole, anywhere in the United States
that they want to live.
Posted by destor23
June 11, 2009 3:15 PM | Reply | Permalink
destor23 - i totally agree. it just seems like one of
those situations that's so awful that all you can do is
see it as absurd. hopefully the joke comes off as
sympathetic to the uighurs, rather than making fun of
them or making light of what's happened to them.
Posted by Zachary Roth
June 11, 2009 3:18 PM | Reply | Permalink
I hopefully procrastinate to agree in principle and as
it seemingly wrongly allows another illegal (seemingly
corrupt and/or hoodwinking) rendition upon the original
illegal (seemingly corrupt and/or hoodwinking)
There are also additional and/or bigger picture
1) As a Democracy, especially a well recognized
Leadership Democracy, it is 100% inappropriate and
legally impossible to have the implementation enactment
of the 'Death Penalty'.
2) Also as may be remembered that this is and was an
3) Also as may be remembered that early on within this
illegal Iraq War the United States removed all the
Citizens, people, residents from a similar beautiful and
thriving Country to live in impoverished and disease
squalar in or near the Phillipines with the official
statement was so the timing of the long range US bombing
flights of Iraq.
4) There are seemingly an abundance of further concerns
within this Article and related Issues and that many or
all would be well servered with the promised enhanced
Openess, Transparency, Oversight and Accountability and
an end to the Illegal Secrecy, ecetra.
Thank you for your time and consideration.
Posted by tpmreader in reply to a comment from Zachary
June 11, 2009 5:11 PM | Reply | Permalink
I'll play spoiler.
Okay, so the courts look at these cases and say, hey
wait, the CSRT determinations about these cats being
enemy combatants was wonky, so you need to rethink this.
Rethinking commences and, hey, surprise!: No charges
against them, not enemy combatants.
Everyone is totally cool with that.
So, Uighurs, you are free to go home. Safe journey.
Except, well, wait. Home doesn't want them. Uighurs: "We
would like to come home, please. Can we come back?"
Home: "Uh, no. You were in Afghanistan doing lord knows
what. We'd feel safer if you didn't come back. we don't
want you. Sorry, tough luck."
Now, this may come as a surprise, but we can't just put
17 Uighurs on a plane and send them to any country we
want, even if it is their home country. That tends to
violate sovreignty and all. Oh, yes, you get no argument
from me that it's damned wrong to be plucking people
from hither and yon, we certainly don't care about
sovreignty and all when we do that, no argument. But
that doesn't work in two directions. However morally
repugnant it is to steal people from their home nations,
we can't just send them back. Those nations may just
keep them right at the airport, thank you very much, and
f*ck you, United States, for trying to sneak them back
in. You bastards.
Okay, so we can't just pack them on a plane and send
them home. Got it. Everyone agrees.
But we can't keep them at Gitmo. There's no legal way to
do so, it's wrong, and they can't be kept there. Again:
everyone agrees. Cool.
So: what to do?
Bring them into the United States, let them live here!
Put them in a community of other Uighurs! Boom! Done!
Problem solved! Easy peasy lemon squeezy! Right?
Okay, well, hold on just a quick second here. I have a
So, when we let them in, what do they come in as, U.S.
citizens? Well, no, we can't make them U.S. citizens,
can we? That's just sort of crazy. They haven't been
here very long--in fact, not at all--and under
immigration law, it's a lengthy process, and we can't
really grant them citizenship just because we imprisoned
them without eventually charging them. I mean, it just
sounds unreasonable and goofy. Hi, sorry we detained you
because we thought you were involved in training at al
Qaeda camps, here, have U.S. citizenship even though you
have never lived here. Don't forget to vote!
Okay, so that doesn't work.
Well, maybe we can then make them slightly less than
citizens, give them green cards and make them lawful
permanent residents. But wait. Does that make sense?
Given the fact that there are literally hundreds of
thousands of people who have applied for visas to come
here, and have had to wind their way through the
immigration requirements, we are just going to give
these guys lawful permanent status? Hmmm.
Well, wait, what if we do that, and one of them goes off
and commits a crime? Can we deport them? like we can
other immigrants? If so, how? Wouldn't we have to bring
them into the United States consistent with U.S.
immigration law, like we do with other aliens?
Well, wait, if we can only bring them in through U.S.
immigration law, what do we do about the provisions of
the law that would otherwise make them inadmissible? Do
we just ignore those provisions?
I submit, brothers and sisters, that while everyone can
agree that what happened to the Uighurs is, at the very
least, regrettable, how we get them out of Gitmo is a
tricky business. The devil, as always in areas of the
law, is in the details. And unless you want to rip apart
some of the fabric of immigration law, then this issue
takes time. Unless a country is willing to take them, as
(Also, if the Uighurs want to come to the United States,
they can now do what every immigrant can and does do:
they can go to the consular office at Palau and file a
visa application. Which would be considered by US
Citizenship and Immigration Services and a determination
made on the application. After which, if the Uighurs
don't like the determination made by the USCIS regarding
their visa or applications to come to the U.S., they may
sue under the APA in a U.S. district court.)
This, my friends and neighbors, is why I don't scream
and pull hair when I hear that Obama has not released
the Uighurs into the U.S., or warns that dealing with
the Gitmo detainees like the Uighurs (non-enemy
combatants, but nowhere to send them) will be our
thorniest issue (it will), or when he takes positions on
State Secrets privilege that seems anti-thetical to what
he has previously stated, or when he hasd decided to
keep (but significantly modify) military commissions.
Because, and all due respect to Prof. Greenwald and
company, these things aren't so easily solved (I have
yet to read Glenn Greenwald's plan for how to deal with
Posted by LarsThorwald
June 11, 2009 3:44 PM | Reply | Permalink
Uh, you seem to have gotten a pertinent fact wrong. Home
does want them very much. Wants to imprison them,
interrogate them using enhanced techniques and quite
possibly sentence them to death as terrorists. Home has
been asking for them since they were declared
noncombatants, but home is so well known for doing bad
things to good Uighurs that even the Bush administration
wasn't willing to send them there.
When people come to a new country who fear imprisonment,
torture or death as a result of their political views,
the process of resettling them is called "asylum". But
that might be embarrassing ti a country that holds a
trillion dollars, give or take, of US debt.
Posted by paulw in reply to a comment from LarsThorwald
June 12, 2009 11:43 AM | Reply | Permalink
I've been to Palau and it's a great scuba diving
destination with close relations with Taiwan and the
Philippines (Filipinos account for nearly one-third of
the work force). These Uighurs could be much worse off,
and will probably make a go of it in the islands since
the locals are tolerant of outsiders but have a lax work
Posted by bamboo
June 11, 2009 3:53 PM | Reply | Permalink
$200 million for a nation of 20,000 works out to $10,000
per Palauan, or about $10 million per Uighur. Hell, for
that kind of money I'd happily put a few of the Uighurs
up in my guest bedroom for a couple of years. Or better
yet, for less than 1/200th of the money we're spending
to bribe Palau into taking them, I'd buy the Uighurs a
big house of their own in the nicest part of my town.
Posted by davsch65
June 11, 2009 6:09 PM | Reply | Permalink
I believe they are going to Bermuda now instead of
Palau. Sounds like a deal to me. Where do I sign up?
Posted by FDRdog
June 11, 2009 6:48 PM | Reply | Permalink
No, one group is going to Bermuda. Four of them. The
rest are heading to Palau.
Posted by Josh Marshall
June 11, 2009 9:02 PM | Reply | Permalink
Give me $5 million and I'll be happy to have a Uighur
come live with me. I'd even take 3 million.
Posted by wbgonne
June 11, 2009 10:29 PM | Reply | Permalink