Neil Cavuto Makes Fat-Jokes About Prisoners

12 August 2009

On June 17, Neil Cavuto had a segment on his show titled "Living Large? Do healthy physiques of ex-Gitmo detainees dispel rumors of mistreatment in the detention facility?"

The obvious answer to Cavuto's question is a simple "no." The Uighur detainees never made any allegations that they were subjected to forced starvation, so the relative physiques of these formerly accused prisoners are completely irrelevant.

On top of that completely obvious point (Neil Cavuto should know better), it should also be noted that these Uighurs were cleared for release by the Department of Defense years ago, and they have lived separately from the other detainees for a very long time. The only reason they were still at Guantanamo was because we couldn't send them back to their home country of China, where they would suffer religious persecution and possibly torture (our treaty obligations prevent us from sending people to countries where they face torture). Therefore, Neil Cavuto's point was misguided on two separate levels. He used an irrelevant point to knock down an imaginary argument.

Rather than working on getting his facts right, Mr. Cavuto apparently prepared for this "news" segment by writing a bunch of fat jokes to make about these men. Here are some Cavuto quotes from the segment:

  • "Uighurs wobble, but apparently they do chow down."
  • "Is it me, or does it look like they've been enjoying the good life for quite a while?"
  • "I'm looking at these guys, and they look like me."
  • "They don't look like they're doing for a lack of visits to the refrigerator"
  • "They can twist it around and say, they forced us to eat all this good food and we didn't really want to." (presumably a reference to the force-feeding some hunger-strike detainees at Guantanamo have endured)
  • "They'll try to turn it around and say, look, you know, we may look like the late John Candy but we didn't intend to."
  • "What about bakery products? Ring Dings? Yodels? Anything?"
That really sums up the Neil Cavuto segment right there.

Neil Cavuto, however, fails to provide any back-story for who these men are, and how they came to be where they are now. Basically, these are ethnically Turkish men who once lived in China, but fled in order to escape oppression. According to Amnesty International, China "continues to brutally suppress any peaceful political, religious, and cultural activities of Uighurs, and to enforce a birth control policy that compels minority Uighur women to undergo forced abortions and sterilizations." Human Rights Watch has put out its own lengthy report on China's abuse of the Uighur people.

This has long been the case, and the United States government has repeatedly recognized the brutal conditions facing the Uighur people under communist China's rule (see here). Furthermore, it has only gotten worse over the past few years, as the United States Department of State has recognized that "[t]he [Chinese] Government used the international war on terror as a justification for cracking down harshly on suspected Uighur separatists expressing peaceful political dissent and on independent Muslim religious leaders."

Given all this, the Uighurs Neil Cavuto is currently ridiculing as fat decided to flee their oppressive conditions and start a new life elsewhere. You can read their own personal accounts of their flight from China, as told to the Combatant Status Review Tribunals, here.

As the Federal Court in Parhat v. Gates, 532 F.3d 834, 837 (C.A.D.C. 2008), explained, the Uighurs that were held at Guantanamo (and recently released) had all fled to nearby Afghanistan. There, in the mountains near Pakistan, they built a village for Uighur ex-patriates from China. The village stood there until October 2001, when it was destroyed by bombs in the war against Afghanistan. The surviving Uighur villagers fled their now-destroyed village into the mountains of Pakistan, where they were taken in by local Pakistanis.

At about the same time, leaflets were "dropping like snowflakes in December in Chicago" that promised Pakistani villagers "wealth and power beyond your dreams" if they turned in Taliban members fleeing across the border. The leaflets promised cash rewards in the "millions of dollars" and "enough money to take care of your family, your village, your tribe for the rest of your life" (these are all phrases that actually appeared on the leaflets). The Pakistani villagers who took in the Uighurs saw these flyers and quickly turned in the Uighurs to Pakistani officials. According to Freedom of Information Act documents later obtained, the Pakistani villagers received $5,000 for each of the Uighurs they turned over.

Once in the hands of Pakistani officials, half of the Uighurs were turned over to China, and the other half were turned over to the United States. The half that went to China were quickly executed. The half that went to the United States were allegedly beaten prior to being sent to Khandahar and then Guantanamo.

Given this unfortunate series of events, and the questionable motives of those who had turned them in, the United States government had decided that some of them were not enemy combatants even before (!) their CSRT hearings. Others were quickly cleared for release, as well. By 2005, fifteen of the Uighurs at Guantanamo had been cleared for release (although some were still held in solitary confinement, and some were being shackled to the floor) by the U.S. Combatant Status Review Tribunals (CSRTs). This, in itself, is pretty telling, since the CSRTs have been roundly criticized by human rights groups ("the CSRT relies predominantly on evidence a detainee cannot see; affirmatively prohibits the assistance of counsel; freely admits statements gained by torture and other coercion; and routinely refuses detainees’ requests to call witnesses or present exculpatory evidence"), and have even been called "inadequate" by the United States Supreme Court itself. The Supreme Court's ruling in Boumediene v. Bush, 128 S.Ct. 2229 (2008), allowed the remaining detainees to seek non-CSRT review in a federal habeas corpus proceeding, where they have been ordered to be released. See, e.g., Parhat v. Gates, 532 F.3d 834 (C.A.D.C. 2008) ("It is undisputed that he is not a member of al Qaida or the Taliban, and that he has never participated in any hostile action against the United States or its allies. . . . Accordingly, we direct the government to release Parhat, to transfer him, or to expeditiously convene a new Combatant Status Review Tribunal to consider evidence submitted in a manner consistent with this opinion.").

All of these men have been cleared.

In the end, this is just a sad story. These men were persecuted in China, had their village bombed in Afghanistan, and were sold by bounty hunters in Pakistan. On top of that, they were held for years by the United States government, even after they had been cleared of all charges, due to the fact that they faced near-certain torture and death in their home country (it has been tough to resettle some of the Uighurs even in other countries, due to the fact that China had been "pressuring other countries not to accept the prisoners").

It is also a very complicated story (ending in vindication of the Uighurs by the CSRTs and federal courts), that deserves serious news coverage from serious newscasters. We need intelligent journalists to explain this very clearly and coherently, and to ask tough questions of the government officials who have been involved.

So what does Neil Cavuto do? He cracks fat-jokes, and says, "Uighurs wobble, but apparently they do chow down."

UPDATE: Neil Cavuto, by the way, has three shows on FOX News, is the Vice President of Business News at FOX News Channel, and is the Senior Vice President & Managing Editor of Business News at FOX Business Network.

UPDATE II: Jason Pinney, one of the attorneys for the Uighurs, had some interesting testimony before the House Committee on Foreign Affairs, available here (pdf).

UPDATE III: This FBI report (pdf) from 2004 is also pretty interesting:
"The Uighurs are moderate Muslims who occupied East Turkestan, which was taken over by the Chinese and renamed the Xinjiang province of China. The Uighurs were offered land in Afghanistan in order to gather personnel opposing Chinese oppression. They were often inspired by Radio Free Asia, which [redacted] was often a broadcaster for. The Uighurs considered themselves to be fighting for democracy, and they idolized the United States. Although the Uighurs are Muslim their agenda did not appear to include Islamic radicalism. They claimed to have no political connection to Islamic terrorists or the Taliban. However, their camp in Afghanistan was bombed, and they fled to Pakistan. The Uighurs were captured by the Pakistanis, with half being transferred to US custody, and half being remanded directly to Chinese officials. It was alleged that the Uighurs who were transferred directly to the Chinese were immediately executed. At the time of my TDY, US officials were considering whether to return the Uighurs to the Chinese, possibly to gain support for anticipated US action in the Middle East. The Uighur detainees at GTMO were convinced that they would be immediately executed if they were returned to China."
(h/t Hilzoy)

UPDATE IV: For more on the CSRT process, see this report by Mark Denbeaux (who was attorney for two Guantanamo detainees).


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