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Britain and US should acknowledge their debt

I am caught in a three-way intersection of interest, but no more enlightened and just as much in the dark as everyone else on an unresolved matter that needs clarity and an amicable resolution.

You see, I have not just heard about but have met some lovely gentlemen, also their wives and children, whom we know to be the Uighurs - a stateless group of people who are gracious about having been granted asylum in Bermuda, but for whom the reality is that they are bound to the island and cannot leave.

I would be only guessing, but I am sure if given a choice they may even prefer to stay in this new home of fate. However, it gets a bit uncomfortable around the coffee table when my fellow Bermudians pontificate over how it is that these men who were in a maximum-security prison can escape, fly for a couple thousand miles for several hours and pass straight through our immigration, and the all-seeing eyes of the American and British intelligence know nothing about it. To hear my fellow Bermudians say with conviction and belief that the Premier and his minister of immigration pulled one over on the Governor must be the intellectual joke of the century.

Let’s get our ducks in a row: the Governor is responsible for internal and external security, not the minister of immigration. If one is not clear, they need only count the number of immigration cases that the Governor has reversed, overturning the decisions of the immigration ministry. I would humbly suggest that if individuals were in a war detention facility following the war in Iraq, it represents a security decision between those war powers for them to be and remain in Bermuda.

We Bermudians, for the most part, love the humanitarian role we have played with the Uighurs. There is more elation than bitterness over their presence. However, like the song Alfie, how does it happen in this scenario that a Bermuda immigration minister becomes the “Batman” who swoops down between two giants - United States and Britain - and rescues some declared innocent individuals?

We know that the two giants sit with China as part of the G8 on the United Nations Security Council. We don’t think the US would pull the wool over the eyes of Britain, its partner in the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation - or Nato. We also know that it would be an absolute breach of arrangements for the US to harbour presumed Chinese war criminals.

We know it would be a human rights travesty to hand over innocent men to face a known consequence. Were these matters, and seeming manipulations of Bermuda as the defiant culprit, really a finer art of lubricating internationalism and an exercise of wisdom to maintain the sobriety between the superpowers and best left as a mystery to be poked at by the conspiracist who would find intrigue but better to be forgotten by the public?

Whether an act of wisdom or caprice, Bermuda once again played a valuable role for two countries who would like to consider themselves as our real landlords. Putting aside the morality of the issue, the tyre meets the road on the costs involved and questions of who benefits. The Guantánamo prison cost the American Government $500 million per year or $2.7 million per prisoner per year. Then let’s monetise the damages: should there have been a breach of relations between Britain or the US with China. The legal fees would be tens of millions of dollars and should any form of retaliatory sanctions visited upon the US or Britain be activated, it would result in billions of dollars of losses.

This was a transaction that averted a huge price tag and prevented a potentially soured relationship between China and the West. Were we in Bermuda just expected to just play the role and provide “house arrest” free without any known compensation? It becomes an important question now, particularly when we are being promoted as a tax haven.

Every now and then I find it necessary to kindly remind my American and British friends about the role we have played in the development of the Americas since the inception of the Atlantic trade and colonisation. There is simply no piece of the development of the Americas and the US in which Bermuda did not have a significant role - right down to the very national anthem The Star-Spangled Banner, which was coined after ships left our coastline loaded with munitions, guided through our channels by a black former slave, and bombed the capital of Washington. The next morning, with the buildings in ruins from the bombardment, the flag although tethered, was still waving in the air. Hence the song.

Today as we witness how the US-Korean nuclear war poses a threat to the millions of lives on the peninsula, Japan and Guam - each of whom may pay the ultimate sacrifice - will lose their lives to protect America from North Korea attaining the ability to “pose a potential threat”. Never mind that their mortal enemy, Russia, and also China can already reach America both on land and in space. The hard reality is Bermudian lives played that precise role for decades during the Cold War.

We have played many roles and the bottom line is: for what benefit? We hosted the American bases during the Second World War and are often reminded we got an airfield and a presence that boosted our economy. But never do we hear how each one of us paid the ultimate sacrifice with our lives. They never advertised that if there ever was an outbreak during the Cold War or even an accidentally triggered event, Bermuda as a submarine detection and early warning centre would have been eliminated first, long before any attacks on the US mainland. That no such incident happened makes every Bermudian no less a Cold War hero.

In Saudi Arabia, the Crown Prince arrested more than 200 influential members of the Royal Family. They were housed in the five-star resort of the Ritz-Carlton but nevertheless, it was still prison, euphemistically called house arrest. Bermuda, to some people in the world, is a paradise and certainly, in comparison to a prison camp in Guantánamo Bay, this is a heavenly abode. However, without the freedom to leave this heavenly abode, it means we are a facility for house arrest - not for us but for America and Britain. I, like most Bermudians, stand behind our leaders in their choice, but wonder was it their choice?

There are perhaps some secrets that we may never uncover and this may be one of them. You know it’s a well-paid secret when The New York Times , CNN and in this case even the Fox News network never touched it.

We saved America possibly billions of dollars and took away a provocation for conflict between China and the West, which protected huge commercial benefits, seemingly for nothing. The question is: did we do this from the goodness of our hearts? What benefits, even if only diplomatic, should we have gained?

Let’s discuss this as they advertise the Paradise Papers files and all the attending ramifications of tax.

Perfect hosts: Bermuda helped prevent a diplomatic incident when it agreed to grant asylum to former Guantanamo Bay detainees (Photograph by Mark Tatem)