Lawmakers demand freedom for Chinese held at Gitmo

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Associated Press Writer
Wed Jun 4, 6:47 PM ET
Lawmakers chastised the Bush administration on Wednesday for allowing the Chinese government to interrogate Chinese Muslim detainees at the U.S. military prison at Guantanamo Bay and demanded they be freed in the United States.

The two lawmakers, Reps. Bill Delahunt, D-Mass., and Dana Rohrabacher, R-Calif., said the Uighurs — members of a Chinese ethnic group — should be compensated and apologized to for any abuse they may have suffered while held in the detention center at U.S. naval base in Cuba.

Uighurs fled their homeland in western China and settled in Afghanistan and Pakistan, only to be swept up later in the U.S.-led dragnet for terrorists after the Sept. 11 attacks.

A federal judge has called their imprisonment unlawful, but the Bush administration opposes releasing them unless they can go to a country other than the United States.

At a House Foreign Affairs hearing on interrogation methods at Guantanamo, Delahunt asked Justice Department Inspector General Glenn A. Fine to confirm that Chinese officials were let into the prison.

"We were informed that the Chinese government sent people to interview and interrogate the Uighurs," Fine said.

Additionally, Fine said, FBI officials reported that U.S. military personnel woke up Uighurs every 15 minutes in a sleep-depravation interrogation tactic known as "the frequent flyer program" before the Chinese interrogators arrived.

"Did they draw the conclusion that this was, that we had American military personnel collaborating, doing this to, if you will, soften up the Uighurs for examination by Chinese Communist agents?" Delahunt asked.

Fine answered: "They reported this was the technique that was used, what they call the frequent flyer program, to put the Uighurs in a position to be interrogated by the Chinese government."

Rohrabacher called the military's involvement "ridiculous." He said the Uighurs should be freed in the U.S.

"And we will call on the government to do so forthwith," Rohrabacher said. "And if it indeed looks like they've been unjustly treated that we offer some compensation as well as an apology."

Both lawmakers agreed to push the Bush administration to release the Uighurs in the U.S., although Delahunt predicted that Rohrabacher, a Republican, "will have more access to the powers that be than I will."

White House spokesman Tony Fratto declined to comment on the issue, and a spokesman for the State Department did not immediately return a call seeking comment.

Under U.S. law, the Uighur men cannot be sent back to China because they are likely to face persecution and torture. The administration has been seeking refuge for them in other nations, and five were sent to Albania in 2006. As of two months ago, 17 Uighurs remained at Guantanamo, awaiting countries to take them.

In March, State Department spokesman Sean McCormack said the U.S. has "no desire to be the world's jailer, and we look forward to the day Guantanamo is shut down. And part of that solution is working with other countries to take people back under the right circumstances."

A report by the human rights group Center for Constitutional Rights indicates that officials from at least 17 other countries have been allowed to interrogate their citizens being held at Guantanamo. The report accuses interrogators from six nations — China, Uzbekistan, Libya, Jordan, Tajikistan and Tunisia — abuse Guantanamo detainees with the consent of U.S. officials.

The group has for the last seven years sought access to U.S. courts for detainees at Guantanamo.