By Frank R. Wolf
Saturday, March 14, 2009
I am one of a number of members of Congress who challenged the selection of former ambassador Charles Freeman for chairman of the National Intelligence Council. This sensitive, high-profile position is responsible for overseeing the nation's intelligence evaluations.
After Freeman abruptly withdrew from consideration Tuesday evening, he and some in the media pointed to the so-called Israel lobby to explain the congressional uproar over his appointment. Freeman's charges of an elaborate conspiracy to derail his nomination are disingenuous. The "Israel lobby" never contacted me. For me, the warning flags about Charles Freeman went up when I learned of his questionable associations and inflammatory statements about China and Tibet.
For almost four years, Freeman served on the advisory board of the China National Offshore Oil Corp. (CNOOC), receiving $10,000 a year for his service. The communist government of China, along with other state-owned companies, are majority stakeholders in CNOOC. Yet Freeman claims that he never received money from a foreign government. The connection may not be direct, but it is certainly there. The same can be said of the paycheck he received from the Middle East Policy Council, which received ample funding from the kingdom of Saudi Arabia -- whose regime is responsible for funding madrassas around the globe that have given rise to Islamic fundamentalists such as Mohammad Omar, leader of the Taliban.
CNOOC's investment in Sudan's oil sector is part of the lifeline that has sustained the regime of President Omar Hassan al-Bashir, who was indicted by the International Criminal Court this month on charges of war crimes and crimes against humanity. In 2004, Sen. Sam Brownback and I were the first two members of Congress to travel to Darfur, where we saw the suffering and destruction that have taken place under the Bashir regime.
We witnessed the haunting reality of the terror and destruction that have been inflicted on Darfuris. We listened to the accounts of women who were brutally abused and raped by janjaweed forces when they ventured beyond the refugee camps to gather firewood for their families.
Congress voted unanimously in December 2007 to authorize state and local governments to divest assets in companies that do business in Sudan. President Bush signed this legislation into law on Dec. 31, 2007. Yet Freeman's appointment to this high-level post would have undermined the policy of U.S. divestment from the genocidal regime of Sudan.
On top of all this, Freeman gave a speech at the National War College Alumni Association last April 25 in which he described the uprisings in Tibet the previous month as "race riots." A year after those uprisings, 1,200 Tibetan protesters remain missing.
The Tibetan people have been oppressed for decades by the merciless Chinese government. I have been to Tibet and seen the conditions under which people there are forced to live. I found Freeman's statement to be an affront to those brave people. When I traveled to Tibet, no one there knew I was a member of Congress. I slipped in with a group of trekkers. I visited the monasteries and spoke to Buddhist monks and nuns who had been brutally tortured in the infamous Drapchi prison simply for professing their allegiance to the Dalai Lama. Just this week, the House voted 422 to 1 to commemorate the Dalai Lama's flight to Dharmsala in India 50 years ago. I hope to one day commemorate his return to Tibet.
Equally disturbing to me was Freeman's take on the events at Tiananmen Square in 1989, as he wrote in an e-mail that has been reported by the media. While the Obama administration claimed that Freeman's comments were taken out of context, I had the opportunity to read the entire conversation, and I strongly disagree.
Freeman said, "I do not believe it is acceptable for any country to allow the heart of its national capital to be occupied by dissidents intent on disrupting the normal functions of government. . . . Such folk, whether they represent a veterans' 'Bonus Army' or a 'student uprising' on behalf of 'the goddess of democracy' should expect to be displaced." I was in China in 1991 and visited Beijing Prison No. 1, where Tiananmen protesters were enslaved, forced to make socks for export to the West, simply for seeking their freedom.
While the reports of Freeman's public statements first raised my concern about his suitability to be chairman of the National Intelligence Council, his words after his withdrawal crystallized exactly why Freeman was the wrong choice for the job.
The writer is a Republican member of the House from Virginia.