Saturday, June 13, 2009

America's 'Bermuda solution' angers Britain.

It's a very strange way to treat an ally with whom you are supposed to have a "special relationship":

Senior aides to President Barack Obama accompanied four Uighur prisoners as they were flown from Guantanamo Bay to the British colony of Bermuda, without the UK being informed, it was revealed yesterday.

In an escalating diplomatic row over the transfer of the former terrorist suspects, US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton discussed the transfer with British Foreign Secretary David Miliband in what was said to be an uneasy conversation. Privately Whitehall officials accused America of treating Britain, with whom it is supposed to have a "special relationship", with barely disguised contempt.

One senior official said: "The Americans were fully aware of the foreign-policy understanding we have with Bermuda and they deliberately chose to ignore it. This is not the kind of behaviour one expects from an ally."

Bermuda is a British Overseas territory and the Uighurs who are being transferred there would have the right to travel (and technically settle) in the UK. This is why the Obama administration's decision to move them to Bermuda without first consulting Britain is such a big deal.

And it's not as if this came up overnight, this deception has obviously been going on for several weeks.

The prime minister of Bermuda, Ewart Brown, disclosed that talks regarding the Uighurs had been going on for a full month, with London kept in the dark. "Nothing like this happens overnight. We started these discussions the middle of May," he said. "You can understand that this matter is of such significance and why the talks had to be private and somewhat restricted." Those negotiations culminated in two White House aides, Greg Craig and Daniel Fried, flying to the island with the four prisoners on Thursday to ensure the transfer went smoothly.

The two men have key roles in the process of closing down the prison at Guantanamo Bay – an Obama election pledge. The programme to disperse the remaining inmates overseas is said to be taking place under the direction of the most senior members of the US administration.

Now, obviously, I am not saying that the men are dangerous. I am sure that they represent no danger to the US or it's citizens.

But, we have seen how the moving of "terrorists" to the American mainland is seized on by Republicans as a mortal danger to all, and the US has no right to make this kind of deal behind Gordon Brown's back as this could very well end up having political recriminations on his home turf.

Obama should not have treated Brown and the UK with such contempt on this matter. We should have been consulted.

Another 13 Uighurs from Guantanamo are being sent to another tiny island, Palau, in the Pacific. Its president, Johnson Toribiong, declared that accepting them was a "humanitarian gesture", although Washington is also reported to be giving his government $200m worth of aid.

The decision to resettle the men has aroused protests on both islands. In Palau, angry residents are said to have inundated the island's only newspaper to express their concern. In Bermuda, the opposition United Party condemned the " autocratic action".

It is unclear whether the Bermudan governor or the British government, can actually stop the island from giving the Uighurs citizenship.

A terse statement from the Foreign Office said: "The Bermuda government consider this to be a matter regarding their day-to-day responsibility for immigration. We have underlined to the Bermuda government that it should have consulted the UK on whether this falls within their competence or is a foreign affairs or security issue for which the Bermuda government do not have delegated responsibility." British diplomatic sources say that they do not foresee the Uighurs getting travel documents in the immediate future, while talks continue in Bermuda.

I recognise Obama's problems as he seeks to close down Guantanamo Bay, but he really should be more careful about steamrolling his way past allies as he seeks to off load prisoners that he feels he can't return to their country of origin.

Click title for full article.

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