Don’t anybody tell Dick Durbin

The U.S. has cleared two Chinese Muslims it has held in custody at Guant

Topics: War Room, Richard J. Durbin, D-Ill.,

Do you ever feel like you don’t recognize your country anymore?

Maybe the moment came for you when five Republican justices on the U.S. Supreme Court handed a presidential election to one of their own. Maybe it came when the president took America to war based on pretenses that turned out to be false. Maybe it came when you saw those photographs from Abu Ghraib, or when you learned that the man who helped orchestrate America’s torture policies would become its attorney general. Maybe all of those things built up in your mind until your idea of America started to seem a long way off from the reality around you.

Maybe that hasn’t happened to you yet. And maybe it will when you read about the plight of two young men from China who have spent the last three years locked up inside the U.S. detention facility at Guantánamo Bay.

Abu Bakker Qassim and A’del Abdu al-Hakim are Muslims who left their homes in China to flee religious persecution there. As their lawyer has told the Boston Globe, Qassim and al-Hakim met each other at a market in Kyrgystan right around the time of the attacks of Sept. 11. They decided to make their way together to Turkey, where they apparently planned to set up new lives for themselves and the families they hoped would follow. Instead, Qassim and al-Hakim were arrested by Pakistani police, who thought they might be al-Qaida members. The Pakistanis turned them over to the United States — apparently in exchange for a $5,000-per-head bounty. And the United States shipped them off to Guantánamo Bay, where they have been held ever since.

Why? Well, for no reason at all, it turns out. In March of this year — which is to say, three years after the United States took Qassim and al-Hakim into custody — a U.S. Combatant Status Review Tribunal concluded that the two men were not enemy combatants but merely had been in the wrong place at the wrong time. In the America in our minds, that means that they were released immediately with the nation’s apologies, with something approaching fair compensation and with a guarantee of safe passage back to wherever it is they wanted to go. But that’s not what happened in the America in which we’re actually living.



Although Qassim and al-Hakim were cleared in March, the United States didn’t bother to share that fact with anyone outside Guantánamo. And having been denied contact with their lawyers or their family members, the men had no way to spread the word themselves. So for four more months, they sat in Guantánamo, cleared but not freed.

The men were finally allowed to meet with the lawyers in late July, and they were able then to reveal the news that they had been cleared. The government confirmed that fact for the lawyers last week. So are the men free now? No. Their lawyers asked a federal judge in Washington to order their release yesterday, but the government is resisting. The U.S. says it can’t send the men back to China because it fears they’ll be persecuted there, and it hasn’t found any other country that is willing to take them. Why not release them into the civilian population at Guantánamo until something better can be arranged? Can’t do that, either, the government says. “They have been detained in here with some very bad people, under some very bad influences,” Guantánamo spokesman and Army Maj. Jeff Weir tells the Globe. “We can’t just release them into a hotel amongst the civilians on the base … We understand the point of what the lawyers are saying, but it’s an impossibility.”

Of course, Qassim and al-Hakim weren’t surrounded by “very bad people” and “very bad influences” until the United States purchased them from the Pakistanis and locked them up at Guantánamo. Maybe we’re naive, but it seems to us that the United States had a moral obligation to find a good solution for Qassim and al-Hakim four months — if not three years — ago. U.S. District Judge James Robertson seems to be thinking the same way. At a hearing yesterday, Robertson said he may order the Bush administration to deliver the two men to his courtroom in Washington in order to get them out of Guantánamo Bay — or at least require that the men be moved outside the barbed wire of Guantánamo’s detention facility and into housing the U.S. provides there for Cubans and Haitians who are seeking asylum in the United States.

That would be a start toward making things right — and a small step toward making this nation something like the one we remember.

Tim Grieve is a senior writer and the author of Salon's War Room blog.

More Related Stories

Featured Slide Shows

  • Share on Twitter
  • Share on Facebook
  • 1 of 22
  • Close
  • Fullscreen
  • Thumbnails

    Once upon a time on the Bowery

    Talking Heads, 1977
    This was their first weekend as a foursome at CBGB’s, after adding Jerry Harrison, before they started recording the LP “Talking Heads: 77.”

    Once upon a time on the Bowery

    Patti Smith, Bowery 1976
    Patti lit up by the Bowery streetlights. I tapped her on the shoulder, asked if I could do a picture, took two shots and everyone went back to what they were doing. 1/4 second at f/5.6 no tripod.

    Once upon a time on the Bowery

    Blondie, 1977
    This was taken at the Punk Magazine Benefit show. According to Chris Stein (seated, on slide guitar), they were playing “Little Red Rooster.”

    Once upon a time on the Bowery

    No Wave Punks, Bowery Summer 1978
    They were sitting just like this when I walked out of CBGB's. Me: “Don’t move” They didn’t. L to R: Harold Paris, Kristian Hoffman, Diego Cortez, Anya Phillips, Lydia Lunch, James Chance, Jim Sclavunos, Bradley Field, Liz Seidman.

    Once upon a time on the Bowery

    Richard Hell + Bob Quine, 1978
    Richard Hell and the Voidoids, playing CBGB's in 1978, with Richard’s peerless guitar player Robert Quine. Sorely missed, Quine died in 2004.

    Once upon a time on the Bowery

    Bathroom, 1977
    This photograph of mine was used to create the “replica” CBGB's bathroom in the Punk Couture show last summer at the Metropolitan Museum of Art. So I got into the Met with a bathroom photo.

    Once upon a time on the Bowery

    Stiv Bators + Divine, 1978
    Stiv Bators, Divine and the Dead Boys at the Blitz Benefit show for injured Dead Boys drummer Johnny Blitz.

    Once upon a time on the Bowery

    Ramones, 1977
    “The kids are all hopped up and ready to go…” View from the unique "side stage" at CBGB's that you had to walk past to get to the basement bathrooms.

    Once upon a time on the Bowery

    Klaus Nomi, Christopher Parker, Jim Jarmusch – Bowery 1978
    Jarmusch was still in film school, Parker was starring in Jim’s first film "Permanent Vacation" and Klaus just appeared out of nowhere.

    Once upon a time on the Bowery

    Hilly Kristal, Bowery 1977
    When I used to show people this picture of owner Hilly Kristal, they would ask me “Why did you photograph that guy? He’s not a punk!” Now they know why. None of these pictures would have existed without Hilly Kristal.

    Once upon a time on the Bowery

    Dictators, Bowery 1976
    Handsome Dick Manitoba of the Dictators with his girlfriend Jody. I took this shot as a thank you for him returning the wallet I’d lost the night before at CBGB's. He doesn’t like that I tell people he returned it with everything in it.

    Once upon a time on the Bowery

    Alex Chilton, Bowery 1977
    We were on the median strip on the Bowery shooting what became a 45 single sleeve for Alex’s “Bangkok.” A drop of rain landed on the camera lens by accident. Definitely a lucky night!

    Once upon a time on the Bowery

    Bowery view, 1977
    The view from across the Bowery in the summer of 1977.

    Once upon a time on the Bowery

    Ramones, 1977 – never before printed
    I loved shooting The Ramones. They would play two sets a night, four nights a week at CBGB's, and I’d be there for all of them. This shot is notable for Johnny playing a Strat, rather than his usual Mosrite. Maybe he’d just broken a string. Love that hair.

    Once upon a time on the Bowery

    Richard Hell, Bowery 1977 – never before printed
    Richard exiting CBGB's with his guitar at 4am, about to step into a Bowery rainstorm. I’ve always printed the shots of him in the rain, but this one is a real standout to me now.

    Once upon a time on the Bowery

    Patti Smith + Ronnie Spector, 1979
    May 24th – Bob Dylan Birthday show – Patti “invited” everyone at that night’s Palladium show on 14th Street down to CBGB's to celebrate Bob Dylan’s birthday. Here, Patti and Ronnie are doing “Be My Baby.”

    Once upon a time on the Bowery

    Legs McNeil, 1977
    Legs, ready for his close-up, near the front door of CBGB's.

    Once upon a time on the Bowery

    Suicide, 1977
    Rev and Alan Vega – I thought Alan was going to hit me with that chain. This was the Punk Magazine Benefit show.

    Once upon a time on the Bowery

    Ian Hunter and Fans, outside bathroom
    I always think of “All the Young Dudes” when I look at this shot. These fans had caught Ian Hunter in the CBGB's basement outside the bathrooms, and I just stepped in to record the moment.

    Once upon a time on the Bowery

    Tommy Ramone, 1977
    Only at CBGB's could I have gotten this shot of Tommy Ramone seen through Johnny Ramones legs.

    Once upon a time on the Bowery

    Bowery 4am, 1977
    End of the night garbage run. Time to go home.

  • Recent Slide Shows

Comments

0 Comments

Comment Preview

Your name will appear as username ( settings | log out )

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href=""> <b> <em> <strong> <i> <blockquote>