In the Daily News in New York — not a paper known for its Guantánamo coverage — staff writer Christine Doyle delivered a heartwarming article on Sunday, after a meeting in Bermuda with Khalil Mamut, one of four Uighurs (Muslims from China’s oppressed Xinjiang province) released from Guantánamo last June. This is not the first article to be published about the Uighurs in Bermuda (I have covered previous examples here and here), but it is always good to see an American newspaper taking the time to remind citizens that former Guantánamo prisoners are human beings, and that mistakes were made in the “War on Terror” — although on this point the Uighurs are only the tip of an iceberg of incompetence that is rarely acknowledged in the mainstream media. It is also, of course, deeply reassuring to hear that, in Bermuda at least, former prisoners given new homes in third countries are adjusting well to their new lives, as other stories — from Bulgaria, Slovakia and Spain — have not been as encouraging, for a variety of reasons.
“I want to stay here,” Khalil Mamut told Christine Doyle, after apparently “eyeing up a leggy blond” in the lobby of the Hamilton Princess hotel in Bermuda’s capital. Doyle explained that Mamut, the best English speaker of the four men released last June, who “acts as their spokesman,” had “adjusted well” after 15 months in Bermuda, even though there are only around 500 Muslims on the island, and no Uighur community. As she described it, Mamut “embraces the diversity,” telling her, “There is a proverb in my language: If you go to the blind man’s country, close one of your eyes. It means you have to adapt and adjust, and that’s what we do.”
Mamut was clearly unwilling to talk about his experiences in US custody. “It doesn’t give me any benefit,” he told Doyle. “I’ve started my new life.” However, he happily explained that, at the top of his “to do” list was finding a wife. “Want to help me?” he asked Doyle, cheekily, adding, “I have the intention to make a family here, if I find a girl,” and explaining that he has “dabbled in online dating.”
Although the arrival of the Uighurs caused “a political firestorm” last June (much of which appeared to have been manufactured by the political opposition in Bermuda), Doyle confirmed that “the controversy was short-lived,” although Mamut told her that, initially, he and his companions — Abdullah Abdulqadir, Ablikim Turahun and Salahadin Abdulahad — were “frightened.” He explained, “What really amazed us were the reporters and the press. We were really in a panic.”
As Doyle explained, however, “Residents have to come embrace the men.” Former cabinet minister Dale Butler stated, “They seem to be adjusted and happy and grateful,” and, as Doyle herself described it, “For the men, simple pleasures give the most joy: being able to roam the paradise island at leisure, swim in the turquoise waters and play soccer with locals.”
Khalil Mamut told her, “Sometimes, at midnight, if there’s a nice breeze outside and we want fresh air, it’s OK. Nobody says nothing.” After seven years in Guantánamo, it appears that the men are still relishing their freedom. “Now, we can go wherever we want,” he added.
Describing their daily lives, Doyle continued: “From Monday to Friday, they ride their scooters to work at the sprawling Port Royal Golf Course, where they tend the bunkers, greens and fairways. In the evenings and on weekends, they go to the beach, take turns cooking, or head to the Hamilton waterfront to browse shops and go to restaurants.”
Mamut told her, “We found the people here so friendly,” but acknowledged that, although they “lead contented lives,” they “wish they could travel.” The stumbling block to this is the British government, which claimed not to have been consulted over the decision to offer the men a home last June, even though Bermuda is a British Overseas Territory.
Christine Doyle explained that, because the British government “has not granted the Uighurs travel documents or passports … they can’t leave the island even temporarily,” and Mamut told her, “Our lawyer told us after one year we would be given passports, but now that is being prevented by law.” In June, when the Uighurs’ story was last reported, Bermudian Senator Walton Brown suggested that it was only a matter of time, and stated that he was “confident the UK will ultimately do the right thing and grant the men the chance to travel” and even “to reside in Britain if they chose to do so.”
Given that Khalil Mamut and his companions were never charged with any offence, were deprived of their liberty in an experimental prison for terror suspects for over seven years, and were then ordered released by a US court, after the Bush administration gave up all pretense that they were a threat to the US or its allies, it is to be hoped that Sen. Brown is correct, although no one should underestimate the British government’s ability to be resolutely cold-hearted, even though the Uighurs have effortlessly demonstrated that they are hard-working, law-abiding residents of Bermuda, and a threat to nobody.
A campaign to grant the Uighurs passports would be a good idea, but as supporters of a number of British residents in Guantánamo learned through long years of campaigning, culminating in the release of Bisher al-Rawi, Jamil El-Banna and Omar Deghayes in 2007, public pressure, though significant, is only part of a process that generally needs to involve the threat of high-profile, and embarrassing legal action to succeed.
In the case of Shaker Aamer, the last British resident in Guantánamo, even the revelation of embarrassing details in court about British complicity in his torture in US custody in Afghanistan has not secured his release, even though he was cleared for release by the US authorities in early 2007. In the UK, however, pressure groups continue to harangue the government to secure his return, and if the Uighurs are to be allowed to travel freely — as they surely should be able to — then similar pressure may well be required.
For now, however, it is, at least, reassuring to hear that they are successfully making a new home in Bermuda, even though five of their compatriots — whose release was also ordered by a US judge in October 2008 — are still held.
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) and of two other books: Stonehenge: Celebration and Subversion and The Battle of the Beanfield. To receive new articles in your inbox, please subscribe to my RSS feed (and I can also be found on Facebook and Twitter). Also see my definitive Guantánamo prisoner list, updated in July 2010, details about the new documentary film, “Outside the Law: Stories from Guantánamo” (co-directed by Polly Nash and Andy Worthington, currently on tour in the UK, and available on DVD here), and my definitive Guantánamo habeas list, and, if you appreciate my work, feel free to make a donation.
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), Free The Guantánamo Uighurs! (May 2009), Who Are The Four Guantánamo Uighurs Sent To Bermuda? (June 2009), Guantánamo’s Uighurs In Bermuda: Interviews And New Photos (June 2009), Andy Worthington Discusses Guantánamo on Democracy Now! (June 2009), Guantánamo And The Courts (Part One): Exposing The Bush Administration’s Lies (July 2009), Is The World Ignoring A Massacre of Uighurs In China? (July 2009), Chair Of The American Conservative Union Supports The Guantánamo Uighurs (July 2009), Three Uighurs Talk About Chinese Interrogation At Guantánamo (July 2009), House Threatens Obama Over Chinese Interrogation Of Uighurs In Guantánamo (July 2009), A Profile of Rushan Abbas, The Guantánamo Uighurs’ Interpreter (August 2009), A Plea To Barack Obama From The Guantánamo Uighurs (August 2009), Court Allows Return Of Guantánamo Prisoners To Torture (September 2009), Finding New Homes For 44 Cleared Guantánamo Prisoners (October 2009), Justice At Last? Guantánamo Uighurs Ask Supreme Court For Release Into US (October 2009), Senate Finally Allows Guantánamo Trials In US, But Not Homes For Innocent Men (October 2009), Six Uighurs Go To Palau; Seven Remain In Guantánamo (October 2009), Who Are The Six Uighurs Released From Guantánamo To Palau? (November 2009), Guantánamo Uighurs In Palau: First Interview And Photo (November 2009), Guantánamo: Idealists Leave Obama’s Sinking Ship (December 2009), Swiss Take Two Guantánamo Uighurs, Save Obama from Having to Do the Right Thing (February 2010), Guantánamo Uighurs Back in Legal Limbo (March 2010), More Dark Truths from Guantánamo, as Five Innocent Men Released (April 2010), Palau President Asks Australia to Offer Homes to Guantánamo Uighurs (May 2010), No Escape from Guantánamo: Uighurs Lose Again in US Court (June 2010), and the stories in the additional chapters of The Guantánamo Files: Website Extras 1, Website Extras 6 and Website Extras 9.
Hurrah for Julian Assange! See how courage can be contagious too? Lovin’ it! Thanks so much, Ms. Doyle. Good, good, good vibrations.
Here are a few comments from Facebook:
Mui J. Steph wrote:
I’m glad. Mamut looks good in that picture, cheerful, relatively healthy and that’s good news. I’m annoyed every time I do a search, I come across some political flack between Bermuda and the UK on this. I wish those politicians would grow up . . . or something.
Have you heard anything on Germany? Link: http://www.derwesten.de/nachrichten/Guantanamo-Haeftling-wird-rund-um-die-Uhr-betreut-id3708828.html
This was my reply:
I’m guessing from the German story that Ayman — the stateless Palestinian discussed in the article — will be arriving in Germany very soon. This has been discussed for several months now, and is long overdue.
Mui J. Steph also wrote:
Somehow this doesn’t surprise me: “A campaign to grant the Uighurs passports would be a good idea, but as supporters of a number of British residents in Guantánamo learned through long years of campaigning, culminating in the release of Bisher al-Rawi, Jamil El-Banna and Omar Deghayes in 2007, public pressure, though significant, is only part of a process that generally needs to involve the threat of high-profile, and embarrassing legal action to succeed.”
Michal Pober wrote:
That’s good to hear! I had forgotten about them, I’m sorry to say.
[…] habeas corpus petitions in October 2008. However, although 12 of these men have been resettled in Bermuda, Palau and Switzerland, Abdul Razak and four others remain in Guantánamo. Having turned down […]
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