All of the Uighurs were captured in Pakistan and Afghanistan as suspected allies of the Taliban and al-Qaeda. But the men claimed they had only fled oppression by China and were never enemies of the U.S.
'We only have one enemy, and that's the Chinese,' one of the men, Ablikim Turahun, told a military tribunal in 2004.
'They have been torturing us and killing us all: old, young, men, women, little children and unborn children.'
U.S. officials eventually declared the Uighurs innocent of any wrongdoing and authorized their release, but they couldn't be sent back to China because U.S. law forbids deporting someone to a country where they are likely to face torture or persecution.
According to the BBC, Washington opted to send the men to Bermuda in order to prevent a potential rift between the UK and China, which has demanded the return of the Uighurs.
U.S. officials opted to keep details of the deal from London until the last minute to enable Britain to deny all knowledge of the deal and thus avoid China's anger, the BBC said.
Pacific island of Palau agrees to take Uighur Muslims from Guantánamo Bay
By Tim Reid
The story of the Uighur detainees, who were visited by The Times at Guantánamo last month, is an extraordinary subplot in the fallout from the US-led invasion of Afghanistan in 2001, shortly after the 9/11 terror attacks.
The Uighurs come from Xinjiang, a vast, predominantly Muslim area in northwestern China. It is home to more than eight million ethnic Uighurs, who say they have suffered political and religious persecution for decades under Beijing.
In late 2001, a group of Uighurs living in Afghanistan fled into Pakistan and were sheltering in their own camp, where some received small-arms training, which they claim was aimed at China and had nothing to do with al-Qaeda.
They were arrested and handed over to US troops. One of them, Abu Bakkar Qassim, who was one of five later released to Albania, wrote that they were sold by Pakistani bounty hunters to the US “like animals for $5,000 a head”. By 2002, the Uighurs found themselves in Guantánamo, designated as enemy combatants. In 2004, after a review, the designation was dropped and it was declared that they were not a threat to the US. They were later cleared for release.
They have since been languishing in Camp Iguana, a low-security facility at the US-run jail, with views of the Caribbean, pizza deliveries and satellite television.
One of the problems with trying to relocate them has been the enormous diplomatic pressure China has exerted on other countries not to take them in. An advantage with Palau is that it is one of only 23 countries in the world that does not recognise China and instead maintains diplomatic relations with Taiwan.
Foreign Office fury over settlement of Guantánamo Uighurs in Bermuda
The British Government responded with ill-disguised fury tonight to the news that four Chinese Uighurs freed from Guantanamo Bay had been flown for resettlement on the Atlantic tourist paradise of Bermuda.
"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," an FCO spokesman said.
Ewart Brown, the Bermudian Premier, said that the United States had agreed to bear the costs associated with relocating the men on the island.
In a statement, Mr Brown said the men have “the opportunity to become naturalised citizens and thereafter afforded the right to travel and leave Bermuda, potentially settling elsewhere", although he said that the resettlement of the inmates was still contingent on the advice from Britain.
Mr Brown said he felt a responsibility to help the men “who have been caught in a web of reaction to tragic events which at the time of their happening were not well understood".
“Those of us in leadership have a common understanding of the need to make tough decisions and to sometimes make them in spite of their unpopularity, simply because it is the right thing to do,” he said.
Bill Zuill: So what does Bermuda get out of it?
Many locals are struggling to understand why Bermuda has joined Palau and Albania as the only countries in the world to accept ex-Guantanamo inmates. "What's it got to do with us?" they chorus.
The US Attorney General's statement that transferring the detainees will make America safer has also raised hackles. If America is safer, Bermudans are asking themselves, doesn't that mean Bermuda, by extension, is less safe?
The extreme secrecy surrounding their transfer only adds to the intrigue. Most cabinet ministers and the majority of MPs were out of the loop. The British Governor said he didn't know anything until after the Uighurs had actually landed on Bermudan soil.
The question everyone wants answered is what Bermuda is getting in return for its hospitality. All sides maintain the deal was done on "humanitarian grounds", the result of Washington and Hamilton's 200-year friendship. No one is buying that. The Pacific island of Palau is reportedly in line for $200m (£120m) of US aid, but a similar deal with Bermuda seems redundant. The country's GDP was $5.85bn in 2007, or $91,477 per capita, making it one of the wealthiest in the world.
However, there is a bill wending its way through the US Congress that would curtail the thriving insurance and reinsurance sector, which is estimated to hold $440bn worth of assets in the off-shore financial territory. Although no promises have been forthcoming, White House help on that legislation would be greatly appreciated.
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