While everyone was looking at a map, trying to work out exactly where Palau is, following the announcement on Tuesday that Guantánamo’s 17 Uighur prisoners were to be resettled there, it now transpires that four of the men have been quietly flown to Bermuda instead.
This is rather a surprise, to put it mildly. The Uighurs — Muslims from China’s oppressed Xinjiang province, who were cleared of being “enemy combatants” last year — have, as I have reported at length, been in a disturbing legal limbo since Barack Obama took office, as the new administration repeatedly failed to find the necessary courage to do the right thing and resettle them in the United States (as ordered by District Court Judge Ricardo Urbina last October).
Instead, senior officials cowered in the face of the poisonous — and, to be honest, libelous — venom spewed forth by Guantánamo’s many defenders in Congress and in the right-wing media, who have popped up to trail around behind Dick Cheney like a zombie reenactment of the Pied Piper of Hamelin.
Moreover, the administration also resorted to defending a ruling that overturned Judge Urbina’s stout defense of Constitutional values, siding with Judge A. Raymond Randolph in the court of appeals and in a petition to the Supreme Court asking the highest court in the land not to look at the Uighurs’ case. This was in spite of the fact that Judge Randolph, who would rather eat his own gavel than allow a judge to order the government to allow wrongly imprisoned men into the United States, defended every wayward proposal put his way by the Bush administration, only to see them all overturned by the Supreme Court.
What’s astonishing about the choice of Bermuda as the new home for four men from north western China is not its location — it is, after all, not a million miles away from Cuba, and the Uighurs must be used to the climate by now — but the fact that it is a British Overseas Territory.
According to London’s Times, the Foreign and Commonwealth Office reacted with ill-disguised fury to the news of the men’s resettlement, because Bermuda, “Britain’s oldest remaining dependency, is one of 14 overseas territories that come under the sovereignty of the United Kingdom, which retains direct responsibility for such matters as foreign policy and security.” An FCO spokesman said, “We’ve underlined to the Bermuda Government that they should have consulted with the United Kingdom as to whether this falls within their competence or is a security issue, for which the Bermuda Government do not have delegated responsibility.” He added, “We have made clear to the Bermuda Government the need for a security assessment, which we are now helping them to carry out, and we will decide on further steps as appropriate.”
According to the Times, potential conflict with China, which has made repeated demands for the return of the Uighurs, means that the Bermuda government “could now be forced to send them back to Cuba or risk a grave diplomatic crisis” — although I must admit that it seems possible to me that the Uighurs’ resettlement may actually have been negotiated between the governments of the US, the UK and Bermuda, and that the FCO’s “fury” is actually a cover for a pretty watertight case of “plausible deniability.”
Before this apparent spat blew up, news of the men’s unexpected move to Bermuda leaked out on Thursday morning, after the Uighurs’ lawyers reported that the men had arrived in Bermuda shortly after 6 a.m., and were accompanied on a charter flight from Guantánamo by two of their lawyers, Sabin Willett and Susan Baker Manning. After disembarking, one of the men, Abdul Nasser, who, throughout his detention, was described by the Pentagon as Abdul Helil Mamut, thanked their new hosts for accepting them. “Growing up in communism,” he said, “we always dreamed of living in peace and working in a free society like this one. Today you have let freedom ring.”
As a Justice Department press release explained, “These detainees, who were subject to release as a result of court orders, had been cleared for release by the prior administration, which determined they would no longer treat them as enemy combatants. The detainees were again cleared for release this year after review by the interagency Guantánamo Review Task Force,” which, the press release noted, included “a threat evaluation.” The DoJ also made a point of stating, “According to available information, these individuals did not travel to Afghanistan with the intent to take any hostile action against the United States.”
In a statement on the website of the Uighurs’ lawyers, who had been tireless in promoting their clients’ innocence, Sabin Willett wrote, “We are deeply grateful to the government and the people of Bermuda for this act of grace. Nations need good friends. When political opportunists blocked justice in our own country, Bermuda has reminded her old friend, America, what justice is.” Susan Baker Manning, added, “These men should never have been at Guantánamo. They were picked up by mistake. And when the US government realized its mistake, it continued to imprison them merely because they are refugees. We are grateful to Bermuda for this humanitarian act.”
The lawyers also explained that the men will probably have an easier time adapting to their new life than the five other Uighurs who were rehoused in Albania in 2006. Unlike Albania, Bermuda is a wealthy country, and, in addition, the men “have been approved to participate in Bermuda’s guest worker program for foreigners.”
Who are the four Uighurs?
So who are these men, whose proposed release into the United States caused such a virulent response? As the lawyers explained, in addition to Abdul Nasser, they are Huzaifa Parhat, Abdul Semet (identified by the Pentagon as Emam Abdulahat) and Jalal Jalaladin (identified by the Pentagon as Abdullah Abdulquadirakhun).
Of the four, Parhat is the only one whose name was known outside Guantánamo. In his Combatant Status Review Tribunal (a one-sided military review board, convened to assess whether, on capture, he had been correctly designated as an “enemy combatant,” who could be held without charge or trial), he explained that he arrived at the settlement in Afghanistan’s Tora Bora mountains (where the Uighurs had been living until it was bombed by US forces following the US-led invasion of Afghanistan) in May 2001, and refuted allegations that it was a facility operated by a militant group that was funded by Osama bin Laden and Taliban.
He also made a heartfelt statement about the Uighurs’ support for the United States, explaining that, “from the time of our great-grandparents centuries ago, we have never been against the United States and we do not want to be against the United States,” and adding, “I can represent for 25 million Uighur people by saying that we will not do anything against the United States. We are willing to be united with the United States. I think that the United States understands the Uighur people much better than other people.” In addition, he was one of several Uighur prisoners to mention threats made by Chinese interrogators who had been allowed to visit Guantánamo, and also to point out that he had had no contact whatsoever with any members of his family.
However, Parhat’s story is particularly significant, because last June, after the Supreme Court concluded years of stalling and legislative reversals on the part of the administration by ruling that the prisoners had constitutional habeas corpus rights, his case was finally reviewed by three judges in a US District Court, who demolished the case against him (and, by extension, against the other Uighurs), by ruling as “invalid” the tribunal’s decision that he was an “enemy combatant.” The judges criticized the government for relying on flimsy and unsubstantiated allegations and associations (primarily to do with the alleged militant group), and in a memorable passage compared the government’s argument that its evidence was reliable because it was mentioned in three different classified documents to a line from a nonsense poem by Lewis Carroll, the author of Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland.
This led the government to concede that it would “serve no purpose” to continue trying to prove that any of the Uighurs were “enemy combatants,” and, in turn, led to Judge Ricardo Urbina’s ruling last October that the Uighurs were to be released into the United States, when he stated, simply, “Because the Constitution prohibits indefinite detentions without cause, the continued detention is unlawful” — although this, of course, was subsequently reversed by the appeals court judges with whom, since coming to power, the Obama administration has maintained an unhealthy judicial alliance.
Abdul Semet told his tribunal that he left home “to escape from the torturing, darkness and suffering of the Chinese government,” and “wanted to go to some other country to live in peace.” He added, “The government, if they suspect us for anything, would torture and beat us, and fine us money. Lately, the young Uighurs would get caught just doing exercising. They would stop us and say it was not our culture, and put us in jail for it.” He also explained, “For the females, if they have [more than] one child, they open them up and throw the baby in the trash.”
Speaking of the Uighurs’ settlement in the Afghan mountains, he explained that he spent most of his time in “construction,” mending the settlement’s decrepit buildings, and indicated that he and his compatriots would have been happy to assist the United States if their home had not been bombed. “If the Americans went to Afghanistan and didn’t bomb our camp,” he said, “then we would be happy and support America; we would’ve stayed there continuously. The reason we went to Afghanistan doesn’t mean we have a relationship with al-Qaeda or some other organization; we went there for peace and not to be turned back over to the Chinese.”
Jalal Jalaladin was one of several of the Uighur prisoners to explain that he ended up in the settlement because he had been thwarted in his attempts to get from Pakistan to Turkey to look for work, and where he also believed that the government would give him citizenship. He explained to his tribunal that he got no further than Kyrgyzstan, where he found a job in a bazaar, and that some locals then gave him an address in Pakistan, where a Uighur businessman told him about the settlement. As he was having difficulties getting a visa for Iran, he decided to go to there instead.
And finally, Abdul Nasser gave an explanation about the “training” at the settlement that ought to make the fearful politicians and Conservative pundits in the United States ashamed. He explained that he had arrived at the settlement in June 2001, and that, during his time there — until it was bombed — he trained on the camp’s one and only gun for no more than a few days. “I don’t know if it was an AK-47,” he said. “It was an old rifle, and I trained for a couple of days.”
Moreover, Abdul Nasser reinforced what another of the men, Abdulghappar (who is still held in Guantánamo), had explained, when asked if it had ever been his intention to fight against the US or its allies. “I have one point: a billion Chinese enemies, that is enough for me,” Abdulghappar said. “Why would I get more enemies?” Abdul Nasser explained, “I went to the camp to train because the Chinese government was torturing my country, my people, and they could not do anything. I was trying to protect my country, my country’s independence and my freedom. From international law, training is not illegal in order to protect your freedom and independence. I did it for my country.”
While waiting to see how Guantánamo’s critics respond to this story of a young man training to protect his freedom and independence (which is something they should surely recognize), and while also wondering if Palau is still prepared to take the other 13 Uighurs (before June 25, presumably, when the Supreme Court is scheduled to meet to discuss whether the courts have any authority to order Guantánamo prisoners to be released into the US), I’d like to wish these four men the best of luck in settling into their new home. For those of us who have studied the story of Guantánamo closely, it has actually been apparent all along that the Uighurs should never have been held at all, and that the Pentagon was only interested in them because of the intelligence that they thought they might provide about the activities of the Chinese government.
Note: For other articles about prisoners released today, see: Guantánamo’s Youngest Prisoner Released To Chad and The Last Iraqi In Guantánamo, Cleared Six Years Ago, Returns Home.
Andy Worthington is the author of The Guantánamo Files: The Stories of the 774 Detainees in America’s Illegal Prison (published by Pluto Press, distributed by Macmillan in the US, and available from Amazon — click on the following for the US and the UK). To receive new articles in your inbox, please subscribe to my RSS feed, and also see my definitive Guantánamo prisoner list, published in March 2009.
For a sequence of articles dealing with the Uighurs in Guantánamo, see: The Guantánamo whistleblower, a Libyan shopkeeper, some Chinese Muslims and a desperate government (July 2007), Guantánamo’s Uyghurs: Stranded in Albania (October 2007), Former Guantánamo detainee seeks asylum in Sweden (November 2007), A transcript of Sabin Willett’s speech in Stockholm (November 2007), Support for ex-Guantánamo detainee’s Swedish asylum claim (January 2008), A Chinese Muslim’s desperate plea from Guantánamo (March 2008), Former Guantánamo prisoner denied asylum in Sweden (June 2008), Six Years Late, Court Throws Out Guantánamo Case (June 2008), Guantánamo as Alice in Wonderland (July 2008), From Guantánamo to the United States: The Story of the Wrongly Imprisoned Uighurs (October 2008), Guantánamo Uyghurs’ resettlement prospects skewered by Justice Department lies (October 2008), A Pastor’s Plea for the Guantánamo Uyghurs (October 2008), Guantánamo: Justice Delayed or Justice Denied? (October 2008), Sabin Willett’s letter to the Justice Department (November 2008), Will Europe Take The Cleared Guantánamo Prisoners? (December 2008), A New Year Message to Barack Obama: Free the Guantánamo Uighurs (January 2009), Guantanamo’s refugees (February 2009), Bad News And Good News For The Guantánamo Uighurs (February 2009), A Letter To Barack Obama From A Guantánamo Uighur (March 2009), Obama’s First 100 Days: A Start On Guantánamo, But Not Enough (May 2009), Pain At Guantánamo And Paralysis In Government (May 2009), Guantánamo: A Prison Built On Lies (May 2009), Guantánamo: A Real Uyghur Slams Newt Gingrich’s Racist Stupidity (May 2009), and the stories in the additional chapters of The Guantánamo Files: Website Extras 1, Website Extras 6 and Website Extras 9.
See the following for articles about the 142 prisoners released from Guantánamo from June 2007 to January 2009, and the eleven prisoners released from February to June 2009, whose stories are covered in more detail than is available anywhere else –- either in print or on the Internet –- although many of them, of course, are also covered in The Guantánamo Files: June 2007 –- 2 Tunisians, 4 Yemenis (here, here and here); July 2007 –- 16 Saudis; August 2007 –- 1 Bahraini, 5 Afghans; September 2007 –- 16 Saudis; September 2007 –- 1 Mauritanian; September 2007 –- 1 Libyan, 1 Yemeni, 6 Afghans; November 2007 –- 3 Jordanians, 8 Afghans; November 2007 –- 14 Saudis; December 2007 –- 2 Sudanese; December 2007 –- 13 Afghans (here and here); December 2007 –- 3 British residents; December 2007 –- 10 Saudis; May 2008 –- 3 Sudanese, 1 Moroccan, 5 Afghans (here, here and here); July 2008 –- 2 Algerians; July 2008 –- 1 Qatari, 1 United Arab Emirati, 1 Afghan; August 2008 –- 2 Algerians; September 2008 –- 1 Pakistani, 2 Afghans (here and here); September 2008 –- 1 Sudanese, 1 Algerian; November 2008 –- 1 Kazakh, 1 Somali, 1 Tajik; November 2008 –- 2 Algerians; November 2008 –- 1 Yemeni (Salim Hamdan) repatriated to serve out the last month of his sentence; December 2008 –- 3 Bosnian Algerians; January 2009 –- 1 Afghan, 1 Algerian, 4 Iraqis; February 2009 — 1 British resident (Binyam Mohamed); May 2009 — 1 Bosnian Algerian (Lakhdar Boumediene); June 2009 — 1 Chadian (Mohammed El-Gharani), 1 Iraqi, 3 Saudis (here and here).
[...] not very satisfied. Time will tell how this works out–some of them seemed to have ended up in Bermuda rather than [...]
Bermuda, Palau, Cuba… any island will do, so long as we not offend the sensibilities of right wing extremists (among whom must be included most of the chicken-sh*t Democrats in the United States Senate).
The cynicism is remarkable: in just a fortnight’s time, the Supreme Court will take up the ultimate question: does habeas corpus actually mean anything?
The Bermuda Sun has the first interview with one of the men, Abdul Semet (that’s his nickname; his real name, to confuse matters, further, is Salahidin Abdulahat).
Speaking via an interpreter, Mr. Abdulahat said, “I have been in jail for over seven years. Innocently. I am extremely happy and very grateful to the Bermudian people for allowing us here and giving us the opportunity to live here peacefully. I feel that this is a beautiful place with very kind people. I want to repeat what I said: I am extremely pleased and happy and excited to be here, and extremely grateful to the Bermudian people and Government — the ministers who made such a difficult decision on our behalf.”
Asked about his hopes for work, he said, “First I would like to rest for a couple of weeks. Then I would like the Government and the people to give me an opportunity to work. I am healthy and want to be able to make a living. Any kind of job that is out there that the Government arranges for me I will do.” He also said, “I hope to become resident here. I would love to have a Bermudian passport and live here as a normal member of society. My hope for the future is to have a peaceful life here in Bermuda and a good friendship with Bermuda’s people.”
He spoke only briefly about Guantanamo, saying that his treatment “varied,” but that “he spent one full year in solitary confinement, which he described as ‘brutal,’” adding that he “was thankful to have remained healthy despite his ordeals.”
Visit the site here:
There are photos.
[...] China’s oppressed Xinjiang province) who had just arrived in the capital, Hamilton, after being freed from Guantánamo and given a new home by Bermuda’s Premier Ewart Brown, they gave their first interview to [...]
[...] this week — a Chadian who was just 14 years old when he was seized, an Iraqi, three Saudis and four Uighurs who were sent to Bermuda — seems to have been prompted more by the recent death of Muhammad [...]
[...] prisoners were repatriated, along with Guantánamo’s youngest prisoner, an Iraqi refugee, and four Uighurs who were sent to Bermuda. As I explained in a recent article, “Empty Evidence: The Stories Of The [...]
Bermuda, Palau, Cuba… any island will do, so long as we not offend the sensibilities of right wing extremists (among whom must be included most of the chicken-sh*t Democrats in the United States Senate).
Agreed. I saw this strangely upbeat clip on Palau and the Uighurs from Al Jazeera.
re:Hey! your jail cell is not so bad. it’s got cable television.
No offense to people of the islands. Those are beautiful places, but innocent men/women wronged by our gov. should have permanent residency options.
Bush I. gave Chinese students permanent residency ca. Tiananmen Square era. So you have to wonder when a judge says DC, and the president says Palau, Bermuda, etc.
The comments made on the article in the Bermuda Sun are truly disturbing. It seems many commenters regard the Uighurs as “terrorists.” Not good. Especially for persons who have gone through unspeakable shit at the hands of our gov. The American Uighur community was the right option.
They would stop us and say it was not our culture, and put us in jail for it.” He also explained, “For the females, if they have [more than] one child, they open them up and throw the baby in the trash.”
Interesting. I know of a village in S. China, where the commie officials allow one “mistake”. If another “mistake” is made, then their house is burned down. The family is held to watch and prevented from retrieving anything in the house, old ancestral relics included. And you know I’ve heard villagers sometimes have to take a days busride to obtain birth control.
It wouldn’t surprise me if penalties differ depending on the ethnicity in the region.Free license to terrorize.
[...] on these and other issues, Amy also asked me about the case of the Uighurs from Guantánamo who were recently released in Bermuda, about the three Saudis who were also released (and [...]
Thanks for all your fine comments, and for taking the time to think deeply about what’s going on. What a contrast to the non-existent level of debate that you highlighted regarding the Uighurs being “terrorists.” Idle minds thinking in soundbites …
[...] by Huzaifa Parhat, one of the Uighurs (Muslims from China’s oppressed Xinjiang province) who were finally freed from Guantánamo a month ago, and allowed to settle in Bermuda, and when the judges — two [...]
[...] 2009 — 1 Bosnian Algerian (Lakhdar Boumediene); June 2009 — 1 Chadian (Mohammed El-Gharani), 4 Uighurs, 1 Iraqi, 3 Saudis (here and here), August 2009 — 1 Afghan (Mohamed Jawad), 2 Syrians to [...]
[...] to scour the world seeking countries prepared to enrage China by accepting any of them, finally persuading Bermuda to take four in June, and now persuading Palau to take another [...]
[...] of these men — and the administration has managed to dispose of ten of the remaining Uighurs in Bermuda and on the Pacific island of Palau — the position taken by the Court of Appeals and by the [...]
[...] not be achieved until the people of the United States accept that it is not enough for Belgium, Bermuda, France, Hungary, Ireland, Palau and Portugal to take the odd cleared prisoner as a favor to [...]
[...] June 2009, the State Department managed to find new homes for four of these men in Bermuda, and in November the Pacific island of Palau took another six. As [...]
[...] year and Georgia now joins Switzerland in a distinguished club that also includes Albania, Belgium, Bermuda, France and Hungary, Ireland, Palau, Portugal, Slovakia and Spain. These countries have all shown [...]
[...] and, frankly, cynical effort by the administration to find new homes for the men. Four were taken by Bermuda in June last year, another six accepted an offer by the Pacific island state of Palau, arriving there on [...]
[...] S.J. and John Bambrick) are contributors to this site – traveled to Bermuda to visit with four Uyghur men who were wrongly detained at the US prison at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba for more than seven [...]
[...] then, although 12 of the 17 Uighurs have accepted new homes (in Bermuda, Palau and Switzerland), the Court has continued to resist claims made by the other five, who [...]
[...] discussed with the German government. Five of their compatriots ended up in Albania in May 2006, four in Bermuda in June 2009, and two in Switzerland in March 2010, while five remain in Guantánamo, and are [...]
[…] of these men — and the administration has managed to dispose of ten of the remaining Uighurs in Bermuda and on the Pacific island of Palau — the position taken by the Court of Appeals and by the […]
Investigative journalist, author, filmmaker, photographer and Guantanamo expert
Email Andy Worthington
Please support Andy Worthington, independent journalist: