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China torture fears hamper jail releases

June 22, 2004

By Guy Dinmore in Washington and James Kynge in Beijing
June 22 2004  Financial Times

The US has ruled out the possible return of 22 Chinese prisoners held at its Guantánamo Bay detention centre to China because it fears they could be tortured or executed, according to a senior US official.

The prisoners, captured in Afghanistan, are Muslim Uyghurs from China’s northwest Xinjiang region, where separatists have fought a low-level insurgency against Beijing for decades.

The US official, who asked not to be named, said the prisoners had no more intelligence value and could be released, but the US had not been able to find a country willing to take them. “We can’t send them back,” he said. Amnesty International last month raised the case of 22 Uyghurs it said were being held at Guantánamo, saying they were likely to face torture and possibly execution if repatriated.

China and the US denied Amnesty’s claim that China had sent interrogators to Guantánamo and had subjected the Uyghurs to “stress and duress” techniques, such as sleep deprivation and extreme temperatures.

The US released more than two dozen prisoners from Guantánamo in January after some were found to have been wrongly imprisoned. However four, including a Syrian and an Iranian, remained in a US-run prison at Baghram, Afghanistan, because they could not be sent home, a Pentagon official said.

China regards Uyghur separatists in Xinjiang as its most incendiary “splittist” movement. Unlike those seeking Tibetan independence, some Uyghur activists have resorted to violence to press independence claims for Xinjiang, a region of 14m people.

China insists Uyghur separatists should be treated like any other terrorists targeted by the US. However, human rights groups have expressed concerns that China has used the US-led war on terror as an opportunity to crack down on non-violent Uyghur activists.

In its recent annual report on human rights worldwide, the US State Department noted: “The United States has raised concern for the rights of minorities. The United States publicly and privately urged China not to use the war on terrorism as justification for cracking down on Uyghurs expressing peaceful political dissent.” Under criticism for the treatment of US prisoners, the Pentagon will release secret orders from Donald Rumsfeld, defense secretary, on interrogating terrorism suspects in Guantánamo Bay, Reuters reports from Washington.

Officials said some details of guidelines issued by Mr. Rumsfeld earlier this year would be made public quickly to show that some 600 Taliban and al-Qaeda suspects held there were not being tortured.

Treatment of the Guantánamo detainees, including interrogation methods, has come under scrutiny since the scandal over abuse and sexual humiliation of Iraqi prisoners by US forces at Abu Ghraib prison near Baghdad. Officials also planned to release documents to show the deliberation process used by President George W. Bush in setting a broad policy toward ensuring prisoners were treated humanely.

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