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AP: "Lawmakers want investigation into Uighurs at Gitmo"

Jul 16, 2009

Washington, Jul 16, 2009 - Lawmakers on Thursday called for an investigation into why the Bush administration allowed Chinese agents to interrogate 22 Muslim Uighurs at the U.S. military prison at Guantanamo Bay in 2002.

A lawyer for the men provided lawmakers with Uighur statements that described Americans depriving them of food and sleep before the Chinese visit, holding them down while the Chinese took photos of them and providing the Chinese with the prisoners' personal information.

"I had never thought that American soldiers would work with Chinese and treat us like this," Abu Bakker Qassim, a Uighur now living in Albania, said in a written statement given to the House human rights subcommittee by the lawyer, Jason Pinney.

The Uighurs, a Turkic minority from China's far west, were sent to the U.S. facility in Cuba after their capture in Afghanistan and Pakistan in 2001. The Pentagon determined last year that they were not enemy combatants.

Democratic and Republican lawmakers alike reacted with anger to Jay Alan Liotta, the Defense Department's principal director in the office of detainee policy, who deflected many of their questions, saying he could only answer in a classified session.

Democratic Rep. Jim Moran of Virginia scoffed at Liotta's claim that lawmakers cannot talk with detainees because of worries about prisoners' safety; concern about their well-being, he said, had not prevented Chinese agents from being allowed to interrogate the Uighurs unsupervised. He called Liotta "uncooperative" and "evasive" and said his refusal to answer specific questions was "an insult to the U.S. Congress."

In written testimony that did not specifically mention the Uighurs, Liotta said the Defense Department "provides safe, humane, transparent and legal custody for each detainee."

When foreign governments are granted access to visit a prisoner, Liotta said, it is "long-standing department policy that visiting foreign officials must agree that they will abide by all (Defense Department) policies, rules and procedures."

Rep. William Delahunt, D-Mass., the chair of the subcommittee, called on the Obama administration to parole and resettle at least some of the Uighurs into the United States.

"I want to know who was to blame for that decision," Rep. Dana Rohrabacher, R-Calif., said of the Chinese interrogations.

China considers the Uighurs separatists and has demanded their return for trial. U.S. officials fear they could be harmed if returned. The Uighurs' plight has gotten renewed attention because of recent ethnic riots between Uighurs and majority Han Chinese in western China.

The tiny Pacific nation of Palau — a former U.S. trust territory — has offered to take in the 13 Uighurs still imprisoned at Guantanamo as part of President Barack Obama's plan to close the prison. Others have settled in Albania, Sweden and Bermuda.

Pinney, the Uighurs' lawyer, listed those who had been barred from visiting the Uighurs at Guantanamo: the United Nations, reporters, human rights groups and members of Congress.
"The exception to this rule?" he asked. "The communist Chinese government."

"In the history of our republic, I cannot think of another example where a communist country was invited in to interrogate, unsupervised, prisoners in a United States detention facility," he said.

Original Article: The Associated Press