May 20, 2008— -- U.S. military personnel at Guantanamo Bay allegedly softened up detainees at the request of Chinese intelligence officials who had come to the island facility to interrogate the men -- or they allowed the Chinese to dole out the treatment themselves, according to claims in a new government report.
Buried in a Department of Justice report released Tuesday are new allegations about a 2002 arrangement between the United States and China, which allowed Chinese intelligence to visit Guantanamo and interrogate Chinese Uighurs held there.
According to the report by Justice Department Inspector General Glenn Fine, an FBI agent reported a detainee belonging to China's ethnic Uighur minority and a Uighur translator told him Uighur detainees were kept awake for long periods, deprived of food and forced to endure cold for hours on end, just prior to questioning by Chinese interrogators.
Susan Manning, a lawyer who represents several Uighurs still held at Guantanamo, said Tuesday the allegations are all too familiar.
U.S. personnel "are engaging in abusive tactics on behalf of the Chinese," she said Tuesday. When Uighur detainees refused to talk to Chinese interrogators in 2002, U.S. military personnel put them in solitary confinement as punishment, she said.
"Why are we doing China's dirty work?" Manning said. "Surely we're better than that."
An official authorized to speak on behalf of the Defense Department but who declined to be named confirmed it was Pentagon policy to allow officials from other countries to have access to interview their nationals at Guantanamo but declined to discuss the specifics alleged in the report.
According to Fine's report, the FBI agent said the Uighur detainee told him that the night before his interrogation by Chinese officials, "he was awakened at 15-minute intervals the entire night and into the next day." The detainee also allegedly said he was "exposed to low room temperatures for long periods of time and was deprived of at least one meal."
"The agent stated that he understood that the treatment of the Uighur detainees was either carried out by the Chinese interrogators or was carried out by U.S. personnel at the behest of Chinese interrogators," the report by the Department of Justice inspector general stated.
U.S. forces captured roughly three dozen Uighurs in eastern Afghanistan shortly after invading the country in October 2001. The men said they were working there to earn money for families back home and to evade the Chinese government, which is known for taking a harsh and uncompromising line with separatist Uighurs.
The U.S. State Department has found China to have suppressed the religious freedom of Uighurs, who are Muslim, and has accused the Chinese government of persecuting, even executing, those who advocate Uighur independence.
In 2006, after the United States released five Uighurs from Guantanamo, China asked for them to be repatriated so they could be prosecuted as terrorists. The United States declined to do so, out of concern they would not be treated humanely. Instead they transferred the men to Albania, which was the only country out of 90 approached by the U.S. government who would take them.
The Pentagon says it is trying to release and resettle the majority of the 17 Uighurs who remain in Guantanamo, although it says it still considers them enemy combatants and a threat.