Democratic and Republican lawmakers have blasted the U.S. Department of Defense for allegedly allowing Chinese government agents to interrogate Uighur detainees held at the U.S. Naval Station at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. A member of Congress threatened to cut-off funding to the office that oversees detainee affairs unless the U.S. military provides a thorough accounting of the Chinese Muslims' treatment at Guantanamo.
Congressional frustration reached a boiling point over the Defense Department's handling of detainees, its refusal to allow legislators access to the detainees, and years of secrecy surrounding the detainee operation.
Even lawmakers who favor of keeping the Guantanamo detention camp open are demanding answers. California Republican Congressman Dana Rohrabacher wanted to know the military's justification for allowing Chinese government agents access to Uighur detainees while denying requests from elected U.S. representatives. At a congressional hearing Rohrbacher had this exchange with the head of the Defense Department's Office of Detainee Policy, Jay Alan Liotta:
ROHRABACHER: "Chinese communist government officials and their agents have information and we cannot? Would you think that is a bit absurd?"
LIOTTA: "Sir, I understand the frustration with that."
ROHRABACHER: "So, we can trust the communist Chinese intelligence agents, because those intelligence agents must have the interests of the American people at heart as compared to elected [U.S.] officials? You get the absurdity of it."
Liotta declined to discuss the treatment of Uighur detainees in a public forum, but added he would gladly answer all questions from members of Congress in a classified briefing.
Of 22 Uighurs sent to Guantanamo after the United States invaded Afghanistan in late 2001, none have ever been accused of plotting against the United States. Some have been released and sent to third countries. The Obama administration hopes to resettle the remaining 13 Uighur detainees in the Pacific island-nation of Palau.
Although not present for the congressional hearing, several released Uighur detainees provided sworn statements on the Chinese interrogations, which they said occurred in 2002. They alleged interrogation sessions lasted several days and were unsupervised by U.S. military personnel. The Uighurs said U.S. officials gave the Chinese agents detailed information about them that placed their families in China at great risk.
Liotta's refusal to discuss the Uighurs' allegations infuriated Virginia Democratic Congressman Jim Moran, who sits on the congressional committee that appropriates funds for the U.S. military.
MORAN: "Were the Uighur detainees afforded legal representation during the interrogation by Chinese communist agents? Yes or no?"
LIOTTA: "I regret that I cannot."
MORAN: "Yes or no, Mr. Liotta! We are responsible to represent the interests of the American people. You are responsible to respond accurately and fully."
Moments later, Moran said he would move to cut off funding for Liotta's office if no answers were provided. Again, Liotta declined to address specific questions about the Uighurs in a public setting. Earlier, however, in an opening statement, Liotta did provide generalized information about foreign governments' access to Guantanamo detainees.
"Foreign governments have made and continue to make requests to interview a specific detainee to assist in law enforcement actions. The [Defense] Department evaluates each request on a case-by-case basis," he said.
Beijing accuses the Chinese Muslims of terrorism in pursuit of separatist aims, and has demanded the Uighur detainees' repatriation. The United States has refused, saying the detainees would face persecution if sent to China.