Politics & Government

Gingrich comments on Uighurs don't sit well with some in GOP

Former Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich.
Former Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich. Brian Baer/Sacramento Bee/MCT

WASHINGTON — Former House Speaker Newt Gingrich got into a public spat with fellow Republicans this week after he denounced the 17 Chinese Muslims who're being released from Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, military prison as "terrorists" who should be sent back to China, where they're likely to face persecution.

Gingrich, the Republican party's most prominent spokesman, is "in the Hall of Shame" for his remarks, Rep. Dana Rohrabacher, R-Calif., said in his opening statement during a Tuesday hearing of the House Foreign Affairs subcommittee on Human Rights. Democrats and other Republicans also piled on Gingrich for "fear-mongering" and allegedly peddling Chinese propaganda.

The Uighurs are a predominantly Muslim ethnic minority concentrated in the northwest part of China. According to the 2008 State Department Human Right's report, they've been the target of human rights abuses in China.

Rep. Bill Delahunt, D-Mass., the committee's chairman, said that Gingrich is either misinformed or intentionally circulating false information about the 17 Uighurs to "appease the Communist Chinese," who've repeatedly asked the U.S. to return the Uighurs to China. He said the Chinese "brutally persecute and oppress the Uighur minority."

Gingrich, who heads a communications and consulting firm, couldn't be reached to comment. His office in Washington said he was on a cruise in the Baltic with his wife.

This is the latest in a series of disputes to beset the GOP in its search for a new figurehead. Although Gingrich remains the most popular leader among Republicans, his outspoken comments — such as calling Supreme Court nominee Sonia Sotomayor a "racist" — have given some in his party heartburn.

Gingrich and other Republicans, as well as some Democrats, have staunchly opposed the settlement of former Guantanamo detainees, including the Uighurs, in the U.S., making it more difficult for the Obama administration to carry out its pledge to close the prison by January.

The administration has asked at least 100 countries to take the Uighur prisoners, but so far, only Bermuda and Palau have offered to accept them.

Gingrich has staked out his position both in a television appearance, in his regular column in the Washington Examiner, a free newspaper handed out at transit stations, and on his blog.

In a Fox News interview on May 10, Gingrich spoke critically of the Obama administration's decision to try to find a location in the U.S. for the Uighurs, and said they should be sent home. Asked by Fox News anchor Chris Wallace whether Uighurs would face a hostile reception there, Gingrich retorted: "Why is that our problem? Why are we protecting these guys? Send them to China."

Writing in the Washington Examiner on May 21, Gingrich said the Uighurs had been trained in "weapons, explosives and ideology of mass killing" and "instructed by the same terrorists responsible for killing 3,000 Americans on September 11, 2001."

Rohrabacher, who'd been a speechwriter for President Ronald Reagan, is generally credited for writing the speech defining the "Reagan Doctrine" and of supporting groups that fight communism. He's been one of the most focused members of Congress on the developments in Afghanistan and issued warnings about the threat from the Taliban rule in the 1990s when few others were paying attention.

"Many if not all of the negative allegations against the Uighurs can be traced back to Chinese intelligence, whose purpose is to snuff out an independence movement that challenges the communist bosses in China," Rohrabacher said at Tuesday's hearing.

Although Gingrich didn't respond to repeated requests for comment, his communications director, Joe DeSantis, expressed surprise at the attacks and posted a response dated June 17 on Gingrich's blog.

"A lot of disinformation and spin is being hurled about. There is no question that the human rights record of China is deplorable...The question is whether the United States should release any of these Uighur detainees into the United States," he said.

Rohrabacher said that Gingrich had misled the public and stirred popular opposition to receiving the Uighurs on American soil.

"No one on the Republican side was arguing facts. They were arguing what was presented to them by people like Newt Gingrich," Rohrabacher said in an interview. "I am ashamed of the leadership of my party."


Gingrich column in the Washington Examiner

Gingrich's blog


Four Guantanamo Uighur detainees sent to Bermuda

Palau agrees to accept Uighur detainees from Guantanamo

Guantanamo's Uighur detainees ask Supreme Court to free them

Imprisoned Uighurs stage rare public Guantanamo protest

Guantanamo: Beyond the Law, a McClatchy investigation

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