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No Direction Home -- One Uighur's Journey From East Turkistan To Palau, Via Gitmo

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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 meets Borat.

You have to put yourself in the shoes of the protagonist:Palau

- 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 facility.

- 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 hilarious plot!
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 reels...

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 non-citizens?

Posted by Versha Sharma in reply to a comment from Jonathan Edelstein
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 them.

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 Versha Sharma
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) rendition!!

There are also additional and/or bigger picture concerns;

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 illegal War.

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 Roth
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 few questions.

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 one has.

(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 these folks).

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 ethic.

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
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