Four Guantánamo detainees to reside in Bermuda

The Chinese Muslims, deemed no threat to the US, were released for resettlement and arrived Thursday.

By , Staff writer of The Christian Science Monitor

Four of 17 Chinese Muslims long held at the US terror detention camp at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba, have been released for resettlement in Bermuda.

The four arrived early Thursday after a day of reports that the men, all members of the Uighur ethnic group in western China, might be sent to Palau in the South Pacific.

Resettlement options for the 13 remaining Uighurs at Guantánamo are unclear.

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Four Uighurs were accompanied on a charter flight from Guantánamo by two of their lawyers. Upon arrival at 6 a.m., they thanked the government and people of Bermuda.

"Growing up in communism, we always dreamed of living in peace and working in a free society like this one," said Abdul Nasser, in a statement released by his lawyers. "Today you have let freedom ring."

The men have been approved to participate in Bermuda's guest worker program for foreigners. In addition to Mr. Nasser, they were identified as Huzaifa Parhat, Abdul Semet, and Jalal Jalaladin.

They are among 17 Uighurs ordered released from Guantánamo by a federal judge in October. The judge instructed the government to admit them into the United States pending any further resettlement. That portion of the ruling was reversed in February by a federal appeals court panel. In the meantime, the Uighurs remained confined in a special part of the Guantánamo detention camp. They were afforded more privileges than other detainees but remained behind fences and razor wire.

Each of the four had been cleared for release by the US government at least twice. The process included a threat evaluation conducted recently by the Obama administration, a Justice Department statement said.

"According to available information, these individuals did not travel to Afghanistan with the intent to take any hostile action against the United States," the statement said.

Their lawyers say the men had been living in a Uighur camp in Afghanistan and fled to Pakistan after the US invasion and bombing began in 2001. Pakistani bounty hunters sold the men to the US military, and they were eventually transferred to Guantánamo. They have been held without charge for nearly eight years.

Normally the men would be returned to China upon release from Guantánamo, but because they are members of the Uighur ethnic group and allegedly associated with Uighur separatists in an Afghanistan camp, the Chinese government considers them potential subversives and terrorists. Under those circumstances, the Uighurs might face abusive treatment by Chinese authorities. US law forbids their return to China.

Efforts to locate suitable third countries for resettlement have been complicated by Chinese diplomatic pressure on possible recipient countries.

"We are deeply grateful to the government and the people of Bermuda for this act of grace," said Boston lawyer Sabin Willet in a statement released by his law firm. "Nations need good friends. When political opportunists blocked justice in our own country, Bermuda has reminded her old friend, America, what justice is."

Some analysts say the Obama administration was considering resettling the Uighurs in the US in part to establish good will to encourage European allies to help resettle other Guantánamo detainees. But the effort stalled when members of Congress objected.

"These men should never have been at Guantánamo," said Susan Baker Manning, a key member of the legal team. "They were picked up by mistake. And when the US government realized its mistake, it continued to imprison them merely because they are refugees."

President Obama has pledged to close the prison camp at Guantánamo by January. There are currently 235 detainees at Guantánamo. Since 2002, 540 have been transferred to other countries.

In a statement, Attorney General Eric Holder said the administration was grateful to the government of Bermuda. "By helping accomplish the president's objective of closing Guantánamo, the transfer of these detainees will make America safer," Mr. Holder said.

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