Four Uighurs from Guantánamo Bay have been released in Bermuda where they hailed their new freedom—but the United Kingdom reproached its overseas territory, saying it should have been consulted on the move. US authorities ignored demands by China for custody of the men, who had served seven years at Guantánamo, flying them June 11 to Bermuda, which accepted them in a guest-worker program. “Growing up under communism, we always dreamed of living in peace and working in free society like this one,” Abdul Nasser, speaking on behalf of the four, said in a statement released by their lawyers. Speaking to the people of Bermuda, the statement added: “Today you have let freedom ring.”
Bermuda’s Premier Ewart Brown said the US would pay for their resettlement. He said the men eventually would be eligible for citizenship, which would allow them to travel elsewhere.
But Britain’s Bermuda governor, Sir Richard Gozney, told the territory’s Royal Gazette newspaper that the transfer “was done without permission.” Protesting that he was only informed about the move the day the men arrived, Gozney said: “The government of Bermuda should have consulted with us because it carries with it foreign policy ground areas and security issues.”
In Washington, a State Department official acknowledged on condition of anonymity that the British were livid. He said the United States consulted Britain about the case, although possibly not long before the men boarded the plane.
While US authorities say the Uighurs are among the several dozen Guantánamo inmates who pose no security threat, DC lawmakers cut off funds to resettle them in the United States. US authorities earlier in the week repatriated two other Guantánamo inmates—an Iraqi national returned to his home country; and an inmate arrested at age 14 who has dual Saudi and Chadian citizenship, who was returned to Chad.
US Attorney General Eric Holder voiced gratitude to Bermuda, saying, “By helping accomplish the president’s objective of closing Guantánamo, the transfer of these detainees will make America safer.”
The Obama administration could be ordered to free remaining Uighurs in the United States if it does not resolve their case before the Supreme Court is due to hear it on June 25. The Pacific island nation of Palau has also offered to accept the Uighurs. Palau is among the dwindling number of nations that recognizes Taiwan as China’s government rather than Beijing.
US-led forces seized 22 Uighurs in Afghanistan after the 2001 invasion and transfered them to Guantánamo. Authorities cleared the Uighurs of wrongdoing and in 2006 sent five to Albania—over the protests of Beijing.
Susan Baker Manning, one of two lawyers who accompanied the men to Bermuda, said the US has a responsibility to free the rest of the Uighurs at Guantánamo. “If we believe in our constitution and if we believe in the rule of law, we need to do that,” she said.
Nury Turkel, a Uighur-American lawyer on the men’s defense team, saluted Bermuda’s “courage” but questioned how men who grew up in the deserts and mountains of Xinjiang would adapt to the Caribbean isles. (AFP, June 12)
A Uighur community in Northern Virginia has offered to take them in—but former US Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich is among those objecting. “Why is that our problem?” Gingrich asked in a recent TV interview. “Why are we protecting these guys? Why does it become an American problem?”
Gingrich pushed further in a May 23 op-ed in the Washington Examiner, claiming that “[b]y their own admission, Uighurs being held at Guantánamo Bay are members of or associated with the Eastern Turkistan Islamic Movement (ETIM), an al-Qaeda-affiliated group designated as a terrorist organization under US law.”
Actually, they have never admitted that, said their translator and spokesman Rushan Abbas, calling the claim “baseless, factless slander against them.” Abbas said the Guantánamo Uighurs call relatives in the US and Europe often, and so stay up on the news. They were surprised to hear the accusation from the ex-Speaker.
“Why does he hate us so much and say those kinds of things? He doesn’t know us. He should talk to our attorneys if he’s curious about our background,” Abbas said. “How could he speak in such major media with nothing based in fact? They were very disappointed how Newt Gingrich was linking them to ETIM which they never even heard of the name ETIM until they came to Guantánamo Bay.” (Huffington Post, May 19)
See our last posts on the detainment scandal.