HAMILTON, Bermuda - Four Guantanamo Bay detainees from arid western China were transferred to this British colony yesterday, marking a bizarre new chapter in their odyssey.
Freed after being locked up seven years, the four men - Turkic Muslims known as Uighurs - were given ties during their flight and quick lessons in how to knot them. They kept a low profile on landing, declining interviews.
They arrived just as islanders were starting to celebrate Bermuda's 400th year of settlement. But Washington's surprise announcement of the transfer from the U.S.-run prison camp in Cuba set off grumbling by some islanders.
Bermuda's colonial rulers in London also bristled over not being consulted, and the Chinese Embassy in Washington protested that the men are separatist terrorists and should be sent to China.
Putting a cloud over the deal, Britain's government said it was studying whether to allow Bermuda Premier Ewart Brown to take in the men as refugees.
Also yesterday, Guantanamo's youngest prisoner was released to his native country of Chad in Africa, the human-rights group Reprieve said.
Mohammed el Gharani, who is in his early 20s, was 14 when he was arrested in Pakistan and accused of working for the Taliban and fighting American troops in Afghanistan. He was being held in Guantanamo despite a U.S. judge's order in January to release him.
Iraqi national Jawad Jabber Sadkhan also was transferred to Iraq late Wednesday, the Justice Department said.
In another Guantanamo matter, negotiators for the House and Senate agreed yesterday that President Obama could bring Guantanamo detainees into the United States for trial for four months.
The compromise, part of a war-funding bill, leaves until later the question of where Guantanamo detainees who are tried and convicted in U.S. military trials would serve prison time - within this country or in other nations.
The deal buys the administration time as it tries to fulfill Obama's promise to close Guantanamo by Jan. 22.
The four Uighurs released yesterday had been expected to join 13 others that the Pacific island nation of Palau had agreed to take. The 17 were among Uighurs detained in Afghanistan and Pakistan in 2001 but had been in legal limbo after U.S. courts decided they were not enemy combatants and should be let go.
Members of Congress objected to releasing them inside the United States and few other nations showed interest in taking them. Albania took in a few in 2006. U.S. officials feared the men would be executed if they were sent to China.
Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton discussed the transfer with British Foreign Secretary David Miliband yesterday, a spokesman said. Emphasizing the transfer's importance to the administration, White House counsel Greg Craig and Guantanamo closure chief Daniel Fried also flew to Bermuda.
The four Uighurs, who come from a vast, arid, and heavily Muslim territory that borders Pakistan and Afghanistan, found themselves in a strange new land. Hamilton, the capital, boasts pastel Victorian buildings along narrow streets patrolled by police in white tunics.
"Growing up under communism we always dreamed of living in peace and working in free society like this one. Today you have let freedom ring," one of them, Abdul Nasser, said in a statement.
Bermuda, 1,000 miles east of the U.S. coast, has the world's third-highest per capita income. Its pink-sand beaches cater to wealthy tourists. But beneath the veneer of wealth lie economic problems, and some islanders were upset. Dozens unleashed their anger on the Facebook page of the Royal Gazette newspaper.
"Our Island is struggling at this present time with shootings, gangs . . . and road fatalities," one entry said. "These are the issues we need to focus on, not where are we going to house Guantanamo Bay Chinese Muslims which inevitably we as tax payers will be supporting."