Premier Ewart Brown meets with Uyghur Salahidin Abdulahat. *File photo
Premier Ewart Brown meets with Uyghur Salahidin Abdulahat. *File photo

THURSDAY, MARCH 22: The controversial decision to bring four Guantanamo Bay prisoners into Bermuda involved no quid pro quo with the US, Dr Ewart Brown said today.

And the handover of the Uyghurs in June 2009 was made without involving the UK because “constitutionally, immigration is a domestic issue”.

The former Premier told a conference in the Cayman Islands that the decision was “mine alone”.

He added: “My decision to accept these men into Bermuda was guided by the humanity of the choice presented, and the opportunity for my country to be seen as a leader not only in matters financial, but in matters humane.

“The criticism around my decision was well-aired and was perhaps summarized in the views of those who claimed that I should have asked the UK’s permission to do it.

“I did not ask the UK's permission because I believed then, and I believe now, that constitutionally, immigration is a domestic issue.

“As such, allowing the immigration of four foreigners was within my power as Premier of my country in the same sense that the Government issues work permits for foreigners to live in Bermuda everyday without permission from the UK.”

In his first public address since leaving office nearly 18 months ago, he told the audience: “Few opportunities exist for a 21-square-mile island to secure the gratitude and respect of a friendly superpower nation.

“In no discussion on this issue was there a request for, or an offer of, any quid pro quo. There didn’t need to be.

“Our act of friendship alone would be sufficient demonstration to an historic Administration that Bermuda could be more than a nice place to visit or do business.”

Dr Brown suggested that any decision by the UK on the Uyghurs would not have been based on what was best for Bermuda.

He added: “The UK would have done what was best for the UK — not Bermuda.

“They would have figured out what was best for the UK, and handed down their opinion to us, irrespective of our needs or wishes.

“We can spar over the technicalities of immigration law and the ability of the Government of Bermuda to determine who comes in and who leaves the Island.

“We can rehearse the well-worn argument about my so-called ‘dictatorial’ style and the lack of advance knowledge to even my Cabinet colleagues on this decision.

“You can go to YouTube and view the living record of the reaction of some of my people to the decision and how they chose to communicate it to the world.

“All of this would be entertaining but it would not change one important fact.

“If any of you wanted to do what I did, the only way to do it is the way it was done.”

Dr Brown told the conference: “Say what you will about my actions in bringing the Uyghurs to Bermuda.

“I behaved like a leader, and did what was right for Bermuda. And, again, I did it in the only way it could be done. “

Dr Brown was speaking at the 50/50 Conference, which is being hosted by the University of the Cayman Islands in collaboration with the Sir Arthur Lewis Institute of Social and Economic Studies (SALISES), the University of the West Indies, Mona, and the International College of the Cayman Islands. The year 2012 marks 50 years since the end of the West Indies Federation. Premier Paula Cox is the keynote speaker.

Ewart Brown breaks 18-month silence