The Justice Department Thursday morning announced that four of the 17 Uighur detainees held at Guantanamo Bay have been resettled in Bermuda.
Abdul Nasser -- speaking for himself as well as Huzaifa Parhat, Abdul Semet, and Jalal Jalaladin -- thanked the Bermudan government and people in a statement released by his attorneys.
"Growing up under Communism," Nasser said, "we always dreamed of living in peace and working in free society like this one. Today you have let freedom ring."
The Obama administration put out some seemingly mixed messages on the Uighur transfer, saying that their release to Bermuda would make the US safer, while insisting the government would guard against their travel to the US.
An Obama administration source told ABC News that "the Uighurs will not be able to travel to the United States unless the U.S. government consents in advance."
The official said by using biometric identification "in our consulates and ports of entry, advance passenger screening systems, and watch lists, we are confident that the United States has the measures in place to assure against such travel."
Attorney General Eric Holder said in a statement that “by helping accomplish the President’s objective of closing Guantanamo, the transfer of these detainees will make America safer. We are extremely grateful to the government of Bermuda for its assistance in the successful resettlement of these four detainees, and we commend the leadership they have demonstrated on this important issue.”
The US has also been negotiating with the obscure Pacific nation of Palau to take Uighurs as well.
Uighurs, a Turkic Muslim minority from the Xinjiang province of far-west China, were living in the Tora Bora mountains in Afghanistan run by the Eastern Turkistan Islamic Movement, a Uighur independence group the State Department designated as terrorist three years after their capture. Evidence indicates that some of the Uighurs intended to fight the Chinese government and received firearms training at the camp.
They fled to Pakistan after U.S. aerial strikes destroyed their camp after September 11, 2001 and were turned over to the U.S. military and detained as “enemy combatants" though they had no apparent animus towards the U.S.
The Justice Department says according to "available information, these individuals did not travel to Afghanistan with the intent to take any hostile action against the United States." In 2006, the Bush administration transferred five Uighurs to Albania. The Obama administration says there have been "no reports of post-resettlement engagement in criminal behavior or terrorist activities."
The four Uighurs were accompanied by partners from the law firm representing them, Bingham McCutchen partners Sabin Willett and Susan Baker Manning.
"We are deeply grateful to the government and the people of Bermuda for this act of grace," Willett said. "Nations need good friends. When political opportunists blocked justice in our own country, Bermuda has reminded her old friend America what justice is."
"These men should never have been at Guantanamo," added Manning. "They were picked up by mistake. And when the U.S. Government realized its mistake, it continued to imprison them merely because they are refugees. We are grateful to Bermuda for this humanitarian act."
On October 7, 2008, D.C. District Court Judge Ricardo Urbina ordered that all 17 Uighurs be released into the United States by Friday, October 10. The Bush administration appealed the case to the DC Circuit Court which on February 18, 2009, reversed the lower court's decision. On April 3, 2009, the Uighurs asked the US Supreme Court to hear their case.
The Obama administration last month urged the Supreme Court to not hear the case of the Uigh urs , and to uphold the appellate court ruling. The Obama administration argued the Uighurs have no right to come to America.
"Petitioners are free to return to their home country, but they understandably do not wish to do so, because they fear inhumane treatment there," reads a filing, signed by US Solicitor General Elena Kagan, Assistant Attorney General Tony West, and other Justice Department officials. "Petitioners are also free to go to any other country that is willing to accept them."