Rep. Dana Rohrabacher on the Uighurs
Editor's note: The following letter was submitted by Rep. Dana Rohrabacher, who serves as Ranking Member of the House Foreign Affairs Subcommittee on International Organizations, Human Rights and Oversight, in response to this blog post by Thomas Joscelyn.
Despite the court rulings declaring the Uighurs continued detention in GITMO as unjust and the decision by the Obama administration to finally release them, there are still naysayers who refuse to believe the Uighurs pose no threat to the United States. They never have. Rather, the Uighurs are a Muslim ethnic minority from a remote section of China, who desired to learn how to protect themselves and their homeland against the persecution of the brutal Chinese communist regime. In that quest, they became a pawn in a bigger global chess game between the United States and China’s veto wielding power on the U.N. Security Council at a time when the U.S. needed China’s support for the impending invasion of Iraq. The naysayers, who continue to dismiss this correlation, seem to be more interested in politically expedient fear mongering than the actual facts.
The House Foreign Affairs Subcommittee on International Organizations, Human Rights and Oversight, of which I am the Ranking Member, held two hearings on June 10 and June 16. The hearings respectively focused on the Uighurs historic persecution in the occupied East Turkestan region of China and the nature of Uighur nationalism versus terrorism. Several witnesses during those hearings took issue with the recent news reports and editorials accusing the Uighurs of being associated with al Qaeda affiliated groups, specifically the East Turkestan Islamic Movement (ETIM), engaging in terrorist camp weapons training and allegedly posing a national security threat to the United States.
The oft-repeated accusation that the Uighurs held at Gitmo were members of the ETIM is patently false. Not only have the Uighurs themselves categorically denied this, according to their Combatant Status Review Tribunal (CSRT) statements, but every federal court that has reviewed the case has ruled in favor of the Uighurs. The U.S. District Court of Appeals issued a detailed opinion in Parhat v. Gates (2008) that found no evidence of Huzaifa Parhat’s membership in the ETIM. It rejected the government’s ETIM evidence as “wholly inadequate” on the grounds that it did not establish that ETIM was associated with al Qaeda, or the Taliban, or that they engaged in hostilities against the U.S. or its coalition partners.
Which brings up the curious decision by the United States to designate the ETIM a terrorist group in 2002. During the June 16 subcommittee hearing, Dr. Sean Roberts, associate professor of practice for the Elliot School of International Affairs at The George Washington University, testified that few scholars studying the Uighur people had ever heard of the ETIM in 2002. Dr. Dru C. Gladney, professor, Pomona College, also testified that “it came as a surprise at the conclusion of his August 2002 visit to Beijing, that Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage identified ETIM as the main coordinating Uighur group to be targeted as an international terrorist group. At the time, very few people including activists deeply engaged in working for an independent East Turkistan, had ever heard of the ETIM.”
A Defense Intelligence Agency analyst working on Chinese counterintelligence operations once said, “It’s the mother’s milk of counterintelligence to create phony political organizations.” He also stated that the Chinese are especially good at it and utilize this method in order to know who to watch and who to eventually eliminate.
More after the jump...
In August of 2002, the U.S. was urgently seeking U.N. consensus for military action in Iraq. According to court documents, Iraqi Foreign Minister Naji Sabri traveled to Beijing for “high-level meetings” around the same time as Deputy Secretary Richard Armitage, both seeking Chinese support. However, Mr. Armitage met with the Chinese first. At the conclusion of that meeting on August 26, 2002, Mr. Armitage acknowledged during a press briefing that talks had focused on Iraq and discussions of putting ETIM on the terrorist list did in fact take place. Several weeks later, ETIM was conveniently placed on the official State Department list of terrorist organizations.
It seems the United States offered another concession in exchange for Chinese acquiescence. In September 2002, Chinese intelligence agents were permitted to interrogate the Uighurs held at Gitmo. Amnesty International reported, “It is alleged that during the Chinese delegation’s visit, the detainees were subjected to intimidation and threats,” and “some of the interrogation techniques were alleged to have been on the instruction of the Chinese delegation.” Another Uighur detainee described in court documents a similar scene but also stated an American who identified himself as a “White House representative specifically threatened to send him back to China if he did not cooperate with interrogators.” A month later, President Bush welcomed Chinese President Jiang to Texas to discuss China’s position on potential military action in Iraq.
It’s also important to note that Rep. William Delahunt and I were both denied access to the Uighur detainees as part of our official Oversight Committee’s investigation into their incarceration at Gitmo. Pentagon Spokesman, Bryan Whitman, issued a statement acknowledging foreign nationals are permitted to come into Guantanamo but “Congressmen, the general public, media are not permitted to question detainees. It can only be done in an official capacity and no congressmen can interrogate or question detainees because it is not part of their oversight responsibilities.” Yet our government lays out the welcome mat for Communist Chinese intelligence officers.
Newt Gingrich recently alleged the Uighurs received “jihadist training in weapons, explosives and ideology of mass killing.” This claim is completely unfounded and nothing more than rhetorical exaggeration. The weapons training consisted of learning how to assemble, break down and clean a single Kalashnikov rifle and taking a few shots of target practice in a remote village where they helped build a house and performed odd jobs in exchange for food and shelter. Former detainee Parhat clearly stated that when he decided to leave China he sought training only to fight the Chinese government. As a matter of fact, all of the Uighur detainees say they abhor terrorism.
Abdul Helil Mamut, another detainee recently transferred to Bermuda, corroborated Parhat’s description of the “camp’s” activities. “There was no typical training,” he said. “Whoever volunteered, once in a while, people would run or exercise. One day they showed us an old rusty rifle for about a half hour. Then the second day we shot three to five bullets.” A far cry from any formal terrorist training camp folks like Mr. Gingrich or Thomas Joscelyn would have you believe.
Another repeated falsehood references an incident where a Uighur detainee supposedly threw a television set because women with bear arms appeared on the screen. Once again, untrue. In 2006 a detainee kicked a television set in protest of his continued wrongful imprisonment a year after his CSRT confirmed he was not an enemy combatant. The man who kicked the TV has since been released, attends college in Albania, has a Facebook page, and has been pictured hiking with several women in his group wearing tank tops and a guy wearing an American flag T-shirt.
The bottom line is all of the Uighurs were cleared for release by the U.S. military under the Bush administration, some as far back as 2003. The Bush administration conceded they were not enemy combatants, which translates into a tacit admission they were most likely picked up by mistake and never should have been at GITMO in the first place. The U.S. Court of Appeals examined both classified and unclassified evidence and determined the Uighurs not only posed no threat to the U.S. but also clearly hadn’t committed any acts of violence against anyone.
The truth of the matter is this; The Uighurs mean us no harm and want the communist Chinese out of their homeland in East Turkistan. They are caught up in a quid pro quo between the United States and China. The oppressive Chinese regime is their true enemy, not us.