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Monday, June 18, 2007

Uighurs and Mr el-Masri

Why have we become a nation characterized by callous indifference? Over the last two years the United States has dealt with a number of foreign individuals with an incomprehensible disregard for their well-being.

Last Sunday, the Boston Globe reported on the fate of 5 Chinese Uighurs (Globe, June 10, 2007, page A7). This followed a similar story about a year ago (Globe, May 18th, page A8). These were people captured in Afghanistan in 2001 and interred at Guantanamo Bay for several years. They had all been cleared of terrorist connections by a military tribunal but were kept, as innocent people, at Guantanamo because they could not be returned to their native China which they were fleeing. Instead they were sent to Albania where they live in misery in a refugee camp.

Why could the United States not have generously have resettled these people here in the United States? Instead they kept them at Guantanamo until February 2006 when the courts were about to hear their appeal to be released; they were then shipped to Albania where they are living in a Refugee Center in that impoverished country. One would think that after disrupting their lives, the United States would be eager to make amends by resettling these people in safety in the United States.

But this is not the only case of irresponsible treatment by the United States. Consider the fate of Mr Kahled el-Masri who was the victim of a mistaken identity. He was seized by the CIA in Macedonia, held by the CIA for five months in a prison cell in Afghanistan to which he had been rendered, and when it was discovered that the CIA had the wrong man he was returned to Macedonia and dumped on the side of an abandoned road. Note that: dumped on the side of a road, not taken to a decent hotel, not fed and given clothes, and not given help in re-establishing his life. To add insult to injury, his lawsuit against the CIA was dismissed on national security grounds. Who decided on this treatment. Is it just some insensitive lower level bureaucrat or did the decision emanate from the highest levels of the CIA?

Then there is Mr. Maher Arar, a Canadian of Syrian descent. He too was unjustly arrested, when in transit between Tunis and Ottawa while returning via New York from a holiday with his wife and children. In his case, after interrogation at Kennedy airport, he was rendered to the Syrians were he was kept in appalling conditions for a year until it was decided that he had no links to al-Qaeda. He was then returned to Ottawa. Unlike the Canadian Government which held an inquiry as to the role Canadian Police and Consular officials may have played in his arrest, a United States court also dismissed his case against the United States Government on National Security grounds.

All these people deserve better. The Uighurs should be brought from Albania and settled in the United States - if we can host 11 million illegal immigrants, adding five refugees whose lives we have upset is the least we can do. Mr el-Masri and Mr. Arar deserve to have their day in court or, failing that, there should be an inquiry (with some evidence given in secret) as to the reasons for their appalling treatment.

Sent to the Boston Globe

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