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Witness Against Torture activists meet former Guantánamo detainees in Bermuda

Last Friday, three Christian activists involved with Witness Against Torture – two of whom (Luke Hansen S.J. and John Bambrick) are contributors to this site – traveled to Bermuda to visit with four Uyghur men who were wrongly detained at the US prison at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba for more than seven years.

The Uyghurs are a persecuted ethnic minority group from western China.  While seventeen Uyghurs have been resettled since a federal judge ordered their release in 2008, five have not been able to leave Guantánamo. According to the press release:

The purpose of the delegation to Bermuda is to build relationships with the Uyghurs, seek their counsel concerning further advocacy for both current and former Guantánamo prisoners, and to bring a message of atonement and reconciliation from the American people to the former prisoners. “In the United States, public discourse on Guantánamo is mainly informed by various perspectives from the military, politicians and the U.S. public,” says John Bambrick, a Chicago youth minister. “We have come to Bermuda to seek the perspectives of men who have experienced Guantánamo firsthand.”

“The Uyghur men in Bermuda, like us, are people of faith,” says Jeremy Kirk, a Ph.D. student in social ethics at Union Theological Seminary in New York City. “We are practicing our Christian faith by seeking connection with our Muslim brothers, in whose detention and abuse we have participated as U.S. taxpayers and citizens.”

On Saturday, the three activists visited the Uyghurs’ apartment, shared a meal and swam in the ocean with the former prisoners, and swapped stories about family and religious faith. The Uyghur men shared some of their experiences of being in Guantánamo and discussed their gratitude for and challenges associated with resettlement. (They are very grateful to the Bermudan Government’s support and hospitality.)

The group returned to the United States yesterday, and I have yet to hear how the rest of their trip went. They were going to meet with the Uyghurs again on Sunday and were expecting to discuss in greater depth what their detention at Guantánamo was like and the conditions that the Uyghurs who are still there currently face. We will hopefully be able to share a reflection from one of the members of the delegation soon.