Former Premier Dr. Ewart Brown and former National Security Minister Lt/Col David Burch issued a joint statement this evening [Jan 21] in response to the letter from the lawyer for the four Uighurs.
Lawyer Richard Horseman wrote to Premier Craig Cannonier suggesting that the Bermuda Government pass legislation that will grant the Uighurs, their spouses and children Bermuda status.
According to Mr Horseman, the four men were told that after one year in Bermuda, they would obtain citizenship and have passports. He said the Uighurs relied on these assurances, and “made a leap of faith and boarded the plane to Bermuda” back in 2009.
Dr Brown and Lt/Col Burch said they “categorically deny” they reassured anyone that they would provide Bermuda status to the men. They also noted that no Premier can guarantee a promise after they leave office. “That is simply not credible,” the statement said. “In fact, it is downright stupid.”
“We could not give what we were not empowered to give. There are many people in Bermuda without status – people who have lived and worked here for longer than 4 years,” they said.
The statement noted that the PLP government fought off a no confidence vote for bringing these men to Bermuda, and resisted the British suggestion that we return them to the Americans.
“While the situation of these Uighur men is an unfortunate one because of their inability to travel, most would agree that temporary asylum in Bermuda is better than certain death in China, the interrogation rooms of Guantanamo, or the caves and hills of Afghanistan,” the statement said.
“Having read their lawyer’s letter, we are left to conclude that they and their lawyers would have preferred that they remain in prison until an ideal situation presented itself,” said the statement.
The statement ended by saying that they hope this situation is resolved in a way that allows these men and their families to “live freely and prosper,” and that they wish the men all the best
The joint statement from Dr Brown and Lt/Col Burch is below:
It has come to our attention that a letter addressed to Premier Craig Cannonier from the Law Office of Wakefield Quin has been circulated to the media.
Having read the letter, we are both shocked and disappointed by its contents. It is difficult to believe that this letter comes from the men who formerly repeatedly expressed their gratitude to the Bermuda PLP Government for rescuing them from prison in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba in 2009.
The letter seems to imply that if there was no ideal or guaranteed permanent situation awaiting them, these men would have chosen to remain imprisoned at Guantanamo.
Meanwhile, we categorically deny that we “reassured” anyone that we would provide these men Bermuda status. We could not give what we were not empowered to give. There are many people in Bermuda without status – people who have lived and worked here for longer than 4 years.
While the situation of these Uighur men is an unfortunate one because of their inability to travel, most would agree that temporary asylum in Bermuda is better than certain death in China, the interrogation rooms of Guantanamo, or the caves and hills of Afghanistan.
We further clarify that no Premier can guarantee a promise after he or she leaves office. That is simply not credible. In fact, it is downright stupid.
Our PLP government fought off a “no confidence” vote for the very act of bringing these men to Bermuda. Immediately after they arrived, that same PLP government resisted the British suggestion that we return them to “the Americans”. What we are experiencing now is a classic working of the axiom, “No good deed goes unpunished.”
We also deny that we have “disappeared in thin air” and believe that this is drama created by lawyers who find themselves impotent in the face of the British Government’s refusal to alter the immigration status of their clients.
We did everything possible to make these men comfortable in Bermuda by providing initial housing and employment as agreed with the United States Government.
There are Bermudians who were born here and have worked and lived here all their lives who still do not enjoy the benefits that others have always had.
This does not make the unfortunate situation of the Uighurs justifiable or better; it is simply meant to put their discomfort in context.
In summary, we assumed that by aiding in the release of these four gentlemen from prison, we were in fact performing a heartfelt humanitarian act.
Having read their lawyer’s letter, we are left to conclude that they and their lawyers would have preferred that they remain in prison until an ideal situation presented itself.
Meanwhile, it is impossible not to note that in the lawyer’s release, the people of Bermuda are thanked for receiving the gentlemen, but the PLP Government that risked its very existence helping them escape a “hell on earth” is ignored at best and villainized at worst. That is very sad, indeed.
Finally, in spite of the offense launched against us, we hope this situation is resolved in a way that allows these men and their families to live freely and prosper.
In any event, we wish the men all the best.