U.S. authorities eventually agreed with that assessment and began trying to repatriate them. Several with citizenship in other countries were released but 22 with Chinese citizenship posed a dilemma: They could not be sent to China because under U.S. law they had a reasonable fear of persecution and torture.
Albania accepted five Uighurs in 2006 but refused to take more. As the diplomatic effort stalled, a U.S. federal judge ordered them released to the United States, which has a Uighur-American community in the Washington D.C. area, but the transfer was halted amid opposition from Congress and the administration of President George W. Bush.
Uighurs were eventually scattered around the globe in such places as Bermuda, the Pacific island of Palau, Switzerland and El Salvador. Some have since moved on but most are getting on with their lives, said Rushan Abbas, a Uighur-American who translated for both the U.S. government and defense teams working to release the men.
The three who were still at Guantanamo until this week did not want to be in Palau or Bermuda because they wanted to be closer to Uighur communities in other parts of Europe, said Abbas, who lives in Herndon, Virginia.
The Uighurs who have been released from Guantanamo keep in touch with each and are busy rebuilding their lives, said Abbas, who has visited with them and is contact with the men.
She noted that the men had lost more than a decade of their lives at Guantanamo. “They are not angry, but they are disappointed,” over how they were treated by the U.S., she said.
Elizabeth Gilson, a lawyer who represented the Uighurs accepted by Switzerland said the imprisonment of the men was so frustrating because it was clear even to the government from early in their confinement that they should never have been detained. The men, she said, often struggled to comprehend their situation.