Walking tall: Khalil Mamut, Ablikim Turahun, Salahadin Abdulahad and Abdulqadir Abdullah say they love life in Bermuda a year after their release. They have penned a letter of thanks to locals and Government for the warm welcome they received. *Photo by Kageaki Smith
Walking tall: Khalil Mamut, Ablikim Turahun, Salahadin Abdulahad and Abdulqadir Abdullah say they love life in Bermuda a year after their release. They have penned a letter of thanks to locals and Government for the warm welcome they received. *Photo by Kageaki Smith
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A year ago this week, Premier Dr. Brown shocked Bermuda by announcing he had agreed a secret deal with the U.S. to bring four inmates from the hated Guantanamo Bay terror camp to the island.

The decision sparked a political firestorm. Critics said the island’s reputation would forever be tarnished by an association with terrorism, relations with the U.K. would be seriously damaged and the future of democracy in Bermuda would be threatened.

The few loyalists who vocally supported the Premier said the move was a bold, humanitarian gesture that would strengthen relations with the U.S. and improve Bermuda’s bargaining position in the ongoing debate about financial regulations.

Tribute

So 12 months on, who was right? The answer appears to be a little of both and a lot of neither.

Dr. Brown’s verbal shrug of the shoulders, “this too shall pass”, is arguable the most accurate assessment of the impact.

A handful of top-flight U.S. politicians, including President Barack Obama and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton have paid tribute to Bermuda.

Some experts maintain the “Bermuda deal” will be central to the administration’s stated aim of closing Guantanamo.

But the Neal Bill and a host of other legislation potentially hurting Bermuda’s reinsurance industry still looms large.

The practical impact of the gesture over the Uyghurs in influencing U.S. policy appears to be limited.

On the flip side, the damage to Bermuda’s reputation seems to have been overstated by Dr. Brown’s critics.

And as the Uyghurs’ story — innocent men wrongly imprisoned for seven years — and personalities have become better known, the fear that surrounded their arrival has dissipated.

The U.K. was angry for a while but a royal visit and a change of Government in the Mother Country since last June has put the incident largely in the past.

As for Dr Brown’s position, PLP insiders say his failure to consult his colleagues over the Uyghurs critically weakened support from key parliamentary figures — a fact that may have hampered his efforts to push through legislation on gambling this year. But he appears to have emerged unscathed and will relinquish the leadership on his own timescale in October this year.

Bermuda Sun columnist Larry Burchall, one of the Premier’s fiercest critics over the handling of the Uyghur saga, believes the issue critically undermined Dr. Brown’s stature as a leader.

He said the unilateral decision eroded the trust of members of his own party and made it more difficult for him to lead the PLP effectively.

Mr. Burchall added: “It cost Dr. Brown serious political points for no gain. We have got no better relationship with the U.S. and the poor guys are still stateless.

“What Dr. Brown demonstrated is that he was willing to bend rules to the extreme. He was quite happy not to trust his Cabinet and to do so for no real gain.”

Dr. Brown survived a vote of confidence in his leadership in the wake of the decision.

But Mr. Burchall believes he has “lost the war”, with members of his own party unwilling to support him on key legislation.

He said: “He embarrassed his entire Cabinet. You can’t embarrass people publicly like that. They haven’t forgotten.

“It is like a man who cheats on his wife — she may forgive but she won’t forget. The next time he talks to a pretty woman there is a level of doubt that wasn’t there before.”

Mr. Burchall believes the threat to Bermuda’s reputation was based largely on hyperbole. He argues the main fall-out has been political, for the Premier, rather than any lasting impact on Bermuda.

Mr. Burchall said: “I never objected to them coming here.

“What I objected to was the method and I still object to that.”

Senator Walton Brown, a vocal supporter of the decision at the time, said history had proved the Premier correct.

He added: “We have secured significant goodwill with the U.S. and no adverse action whatsoever from the U.K. The real issue of course is that four individuals who were never charged with any crime are now free.”

The status of the four men remains in limbo. Negotiations are still taking place to convince the U.K. to grant them passports.

Ill-feeling

But Governor Sir Richard Gozney hinted in an interview in April that this was unlikely to happen soon.

Sen. Brown said the impasse was a result of ill-feeling from the U.K. over the way the decision was taken.

But he insisted “time is a great healer” and is confident the U.K. will ultimately do the right thing and grant the men the chance to travel and reside in Britain if they chose to do so.

Sen. Brown said: “They are settled in Bermuda, they are hard working individuals.

“I’m sure they miss their families like anyone would but their living conditions are significantly better today than they were 18 months ago.

“By any moral standards we have done the right thing. All that remains is for the U.K. to grant them travel documents and allow them to be truly free.”

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