Speech by Dr. Ewart Brown:

This year of 2009 marks four hundred years of friendship between the United States and Bermuda. Our two countries have seen identical struggles over these many years but our friendship has remained strong. It has been a friendship based on trust, mutual respect and a desire to benefit one another in times of need.

The United States and Bermuda have a long history of working together to achieve sensible outcomes. To ease the return of our American visitors we enjoy a Pre-clearance facility in Bermuda and by extension Bermudians are likewise cleared from Bermuda for entry into the United States and do so without the need for a visa.

Economically, the Government of the United States has long respected the work we do in the area of financial services and as a result the benefits of Bermuda's healthy insurance sector are evidenced in the billions of dollars in claims that were paid in the US after 9/11, Hurricanes Katrina, Rita and Wilma.

These are just two examples of the considerable friendship between our countries.

In this four hundredth year of that friendship the call to humanitarian action from the President of the United States has been heard and Bermuda has responded.

With the signing of his first Executive Order as President, President Obama set in motion the closure of the now infamous prison at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. Of the prisoners held there many are innocent men, held without trial or any form of due process; many are refugees from their own lands whose political views are contrary to the regimes in power there. They have committed no crime. They have laid no plans to harm innocent citizens of any nation, but have been caught in a web of reaction to tragic events which at the time of their happening were not well understood.

In the eight years since these men have been detained the Government of the United States has been clear for some time of their innocence and moreover of their inability to return to their countries of origin. Their detention at Guantanamo Bay in the face of these facts has been termed by international human rights organizations as unjust.

The decision to close the prison and to therefore relocate these men is not an easy one and the reluctance of many within the family of nations to absorb them into their populations is evidence of that fact.

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.

Accordingly, in keeping with the four hundred years of friendship between our countries and in response to the President's call for international help in this area; the Government of Bermuda has agreed to grant asylum to four refugees previously detained at Guantanamo Bay. These men are landed in Bermuda in the short term, provided with the opportunity to become naturalized citizens and thereafter afforded the right to travel and leave Bermuda, potentially settling elsewhere.

The nature of their arrest and detention is such that they are essentially stateless, without documentation and without the benefit of a fresh start will be condemned to languish as innocent men in some form of detention even after the closure of Guantanamo Bay.

The United States Government will bear the cost surrounding this relocation and the Government of Bermuda will facilitate documentation, residence and employment.

Bermuda has extended itself in this manner previously. In the 1980s in the wake of the natural disasters and political issues in Vietnam, Bermuda accepted Vietnamese families and they have, for the most part, become a part of this community or have settled overseas.

It is important for everyone to understand that this process in not complete.

I met with His Excellency the Governor this morning, and on behalf of the United

Kingdom, he is seeking to further assess the ramifications of this move before allowing the Government of Bermuda to fully implement this action. Our colonial relationship with the United Kingdom certainly gives him license to do so.

Therefore, this fast moving situation now rests at Government House and we await a decision... in many respects, the international community awaits a decision. But in the meantime, I can say on behalf of the Government, we are confident this decision is the right one from a humanitarian perspective.