Dumping detainees in Bermuda

Bermuda accepted four of the Uighur detainees from Guantánamo Bay, much to the surprise of the British, who were not consulted about the agreement. Are Bermudans getting anything out of the deal?

What was Bermuda thinking? said Julian Borger in the London Guardian. Last week, the British territory concluded a deal with the U.S. to accept four detainees from Guantánamo Bay—“without consulting Britain, its colonial power.” Bermuda does have the right to conduct its own foreign relations, but only on the condition that it seeks permission from London before entering into any agreements with other states. As a “punitive measure” for failing to do so, Britain is now considering revoking Bermuda’s foreign-policy privileges altogether. And then there’s the little matter of the U.S. going behind Britain’s back. Foreign Secretary David Miliband had “a tense telephone conversation” with Secretary of State Hillary Clinton as soon as he heard of the detainee transfer. The U.S. decision to negotiate directly with Bermuda was an unmistakable “blow to British claims to have a special relationship with Washington.”

At least the detainees are happy, said James Bone in the London Times. The four ethnic Uighurs, a Muslim minority oppressed in China, had fled China for Afghanistan and then fled Afghanistan in 2001, once the U.S. assault on the Taliban began. They ended up in Gitmo after being captured by bounty hunters in Pakistan. Seven years later, the U.S. conceded that they were not terrorists after all, and the four can now gaze at the Bermudan sand “from the pastel-pink cliff-top holiday cottage where they are staying at U.S. taxpayers’ expense.” The four say they plan to open a Uighur restaurant. “Uighur food is delicious,” said ex-detainee Abdullah Abdulqadir. “These kind and generous people of Bermuda, we want to do something for them. Our feelings are incredible. We did not think we were going to be this happy.”

That’s swell, but Bermudans are wondering what they get out of the deal, said Bermuda journalist Bill Zuill in the London Independent. At least Palau, the Pacific island nation that also agreed to take in some Uighurs, is “reportedly in line for $200 million” in U.S. aid. But since Bermuda is already one of the richest countries in the world per capita, a similar deal with us would seem “redundant.” Rumor has it that the Obama administration is planning to do something else for us: There’s a bill under consideration in the U.S. Congress that would clamp down on offshore insurance and reinsurance, hurting a thriving business here. Any White House help killing that bill “would be greatly appreciated.”

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What a vulgar display, said Larry Burchall in the Bermuda Sun. Bermuda is now “dealing in human misery for financial gain.” Our prime minister, Ewart Brown, claims he took the Uighurs because it was the right thing to do. But we all know he doesn’t mean morally right—he must mean right for Bermuda’s bottom line. We desperately need to have “damn good economic relationships with the U.S.,” the source of much of our financial services business. So our government “sucked up, put a glossy sheen on the whole matter, and agreed to accept four unfortunates.” I don’t object to giving the men a home. But let’s not pretend we’re doing this for humanitarian reasons. We certainly never took in anyone from Darfur or Rwanda. “We’re doing it because we want to stay in bed with America—and it seems that we will even trade in human beings if we have to.”

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