No secret Uighurs deal, states US Envoy
Bermuda should not expect anything surprising to come out regarding the Uighur negotiations in leaked cables according to a top US ambassador.
US Special Envoy for Guantanamo Bay closure Daniel Fried spoke exclusively with
The Royal Gazette about the 2009 negotiations, which saw four former Guantanamo Bay detainees relocated to Bermuda.
He said the conversations focused solely on the Uighurs there was no mention of Bermuda's corporate tax policies and was adamant there was no quid pro quo.
Last week whistleblowing website WikiLeaks released a cable from the Paris Embassy stating Bermuda received a “minimal” amount of cash for accepting four Uighurs who had been incarcerated in the US terrorism detention facility for several years. WikiLeaks is releasing tens of thousands of cables from US embassies and consulates around the world. In total there are 68 cables where Bermuda is mentioned. Twenty-seven of those came from the US Consulate in Bermuda.
Yesterday Mr Fried said: “There is really nothing more to find out.
“I don't talk about individual cables but I can say throughout all the talks with Bermuda there was no quid pro quo, no secret side deal.
“The then Premier took the step for humanitarian reasons. I personally handled the negotiation and I can say that is exactly what he told us.
“The US Government, are profoundly grateful to the people of Bermuda and the Government.
“What Bermuda did was a totally humanitarian gesture and it has enabled four men to begin a new life.
“It was a decent thing to do, the right thing to do and a courageous thing to do and I mean that quite sincerely.
“I personally am very grateful to Bermuda and the former Premier.”
Since June 2009, when the Uighurs arrived, politicians and the public have speculated about what Bermuda got in return for the men.
Some queried if money had changed hands while others wondered if it would mean Bermuda could receive tax concessions in the proposed Neal Bill, which clamps down on tax avoidance by US companies using offshore subsidiaries.
Former Premier Ewart Brown denied that any deals had been made. He said he agreed to take the Uighurs as a humanitarian gesture.
Mr Fried said Bermuda only received a minimal amount to defray the costs of transportation, something offered to every country that accepts detainees.
Mr Fried did not disclose what the “minimal” figure was that Bermuda received in exchange for the Uighurs but did say: “I can say it is very minimal, very minimal to any country.
“We have offered to countries a small amount to defray some of the costs of relocation. “We made such an offer to Bermuda who initially paid for the transportation.
“We wanted to make sure the Bermuda taxpayers weren't unduly burdened.”
Germany's Spiegel newspaper, which has received all 251,287 cables from WikiLeaks, reported that Mr Fried told the US Government he hadproposed a “symbolic amount in the neighbourhood of $50,000 to $80,000 per detainee” to the Bulgarian Interior Ministry and that Maldives countries received $25,000 to$85,000 per detainee to cover “temporary living expenses and other costs”.
Mr Fried told
The Royal Gazette the “minimal” figure was a “one time” payment and the US does not contribute towards the livelihoods of any relocated detainees. He said he has been given updates on the Uighurs lives in Bermuda and considers it a “very successful relocation”.
International reports have stated some countries hoped for millions of dollars, or US Visa Waivers, in exchange for taking detainees.
Mr Fried said the Obama administration never offered anyone millions in aid packages, and said Bermuda had received the same deal other countries had.
“There was nothing that Bermuda missed out on, we followed the same rules that we did with other countries taking detainees,” he said.
When asked if Bermuda's corporate tax policies were discussed, he said. “No, never. There was never any talk about anything else. All we talked about was the Uighurs; there was no secret deal.
“The tax policies of Bermuda never came up in the meetings nor did any other issue.”
The negotiations took place between Mr Fried and Dr Brown. Mr Fried also met former Home Affairs Minister David Burch, who escorted the Uighurs to Bermuda. Former US Consul Gregory Slayton was not involved in the talks. The talks were so secret their arrival on June 11, 2009 caught everyone by surprise, including the UK Government which is responsible for Bermuda's foreign affairs.
The UK's Foreign Office Minister Chris Bryant expressed the UK's “anger and profound disappointment” with the Bermuda Government during a meeting with Dr Brown.
Yesterday, when asked if the UK came up in the discussions about the Uighurs, Mr Fried said: “I don't want to get into the details of the discussion, just because WikiLeaks is doing what it has done doesn't mean I have to follow suit.
“The Bermuda Government made its decision based on good motives and we are grateful for that.”
There are still 174 detainees in Guantanamo, including five Uighurs, and Mr Fried said he is continuing to relocate them.
“I want to find homes for the other five Uighurs but we will not be asking Bermuda to take more Uighurs,” he said. “Bermuda has done its part.”