Relief funds help Guantanamo Uighur move forward

January 26, 2010

Corrected 2/4/10

An attorney with Kramer Levin Naftalis & Frankel contacted me two months ago to ask for my assistance on behalf of one of her firm’s Uighur clients who had recently been released from Guantanamo to Palau.

Ahmad Abdulahad in Palau after almost eight years in Guantanamo. (Photo courtesy of Kramer Levin).
Ahmad Abdulahad in Palau after almost eight years in Guantanamo. (Photo courtesy of Kramer Levin)

Kramer Levin’s client, a 38-year-old Uighur named Ahmad Abdulahad, was captured in Afghanistan soon after the American invasion in October 2001. His left leg was severely injured during an air strike at Qalai Janghi Prison near Mazar-E-Sharif, where he was being held prior to his transfer to Guantanamo.

Ahmad’s leg was amputated soon after his arrival in Guantanamo, and a prosthetic device was supplied by the U.S. military. The prosthesis was never fitted properly. As a result, Ahmad’s mobility has been very limited and he experiences chronic pain. Whether he is walking, sitting, or standing, the prosthesis rubs against his residual limb. This causes blistering, which is aggravated in the hot, humid climate of Palau.

Ahmad’s story

Ahmad was born in the Xinjiang Uighur Autonomous region, a western province of the People’s Republic of China.  As an ethnic Uighur (a Turkic Muslim minority), he suffered severe repression under China’s rule. Ahmad is an educated man with a wife and three children. He left his home to escape persecution in 2000. He traveled to Kyrgyzstan and later to Pakistan. Like many Uighur refugees, he finally settled in Afghanistan, the only Central Asian country where he was unlikely to face extradition to China.

Ahmad was living in Kabul at the time of the U.S. invasion. When the fighting moved closer to the city, he joined the crowds of civilians fleeing north. Although unarmed and unaffiliated with any of the warring factions, he was captured by the forces of the notorious warlord General Abdul Rashid Dostum and turned over to the Americans for a bounty of $5,000.

Now, eight years later, Ahmad is finally a free man. Despite the terrible adversities that he has faced, he is extraordinarily motivated to begin a new life, to find employment, and to become self-sufficient. But he needs extensive medical care.

Medical treatment for Ahmad

When Ahmad’s attorney called me, her team had already found an orthopedic surgeon who was willing to travel to Palau to treat Ahmad pro bono. The surgeon, who shared in a Nobel Peace Prize in 1997 for his work with the International Campaign to Ban Landmines, will evaluate the health of Ahmad’s residual limb and perform corrective surgery if necessary. A distinguished prosthetist, whose work has been featured on the Discovery Health Channel, will build and fit a new prosthesis for Ahmad.

Appeal for help

When she contacted me in December, Ahmad’s attorney still needed to raise approximately $11,000 for travel expenses and the purchase of the prosthesis. I responded by sending out an appeal through our networks. The response was dramatic. Innumerable small donations poured in — from caring people already cash-strapped at the holidays. Ahmad’s attorney also contacted other individuals and other groups who donated generously. Then thanks to some speedy work from Amnesty staff in the UK and the US, we were able to donate the balance from our Hanna Grunwald emergency relief fund, a fund especially meant for individuals recovering from such severe human rights abuses.

Last week, the attorney wrote to me:

Great news!! Amnesty has agreed to fund the remaining amount we need to meet our goal! I am so grateful to all the AI family for your tremendous support. Ahmad will be so appreciative.

It’s wonderful to see so many people coming together to help restore human rights one person at a time. On behalf of Amnesty International, thank you for making this possible!