Khalil Manut: his gentlenesss and courage punctures the mythology that surrounds Guantanamo.  *Photo by James Whittaker
Khalil Manut: his gentlenesss and courage punctures the mythology that surrounds Guantanamo. *Photo by James Whittaker
Just who are these Uighurs - and why won't the U.S. take them, if they're so innocent?
These are fair questions. I'd ask them myself, were I a Bermudian opening my newspaper last week to find them on my island. I might have been upset, as many members and citizens were.
Last week Bermuda felt just as I did on the August morning in 2006 when I met Khalil. I walked into a small hut at Guantanamo to find a man chained to the floor. Was he a terrorist? Was he dangerous? I'll be honest - I wondered.
But right away something didn't fit. His eyes were bright. He shook my hand politely. His smile was shy. He spoke softly. He treated the lady who acts as our interpreter with great courtesy. When guards barked orders, he responded gently. And as I learned more about him, as I studied the records and the man himself, I realized something. If only I could get a judge to meet this human being - to observe his gentleness, his kindness, his courtesy - it would puncture the mythology that surrounds Guantanamo.
For long years, I just couldn't succeed. The Bush Administration imposed a chilling secrecy, and poisoned the atmosphere with a steady drumbeat of frightening propaganda. Congress wrote rules that never let Khalil testify, or even come to court at all.
But I think my prediction was right. While I was on the island last week, Bermudians began to meet Khalil and the three other Uighurs. You could see it puzzling them. These men just didn't fit the 'terrorist' picture at all! They were fishing and swimming and eating ice creams and grinning from ear to ear.
Know this: the Uighurs were stuck in Guantanamo not because they were enemies, but because no one would take them. Call them Ishmael - they were the world's outcasts, and they knew it. So when everyday Bermudians began to live out the teaching in the Epistle to the Romans - that the mark of a true Christian is to extend hospitality to strangers - the Uighurs were deeply moved. Each now feels deep gratitude to the island and her people.
Now Bermuda needn't take my word for this. (Her government certainly didn't! They demanded reams of information and answers to hundreds of questions.) Bermuda has only to meet them to discover that they are peaceful, as you are; they mistrust Communism as much as any banker on Front Street does; that they love a good party, as you do.
One night a wonderful Bermudian chap called Earl gave me a lift. I asked, "What's the percentage of islanders who are churchgoers?"
"Near one hundred per cent," Earl said. And I thought, "the Uighurs love God too."
So why didn't America take them? For years I put that question to my own government. How on earth can we expect allies to take Guantanamo prisoners when we will not ourselves?
The answer doesn't make me proud. We Americans have not overcome our own mythology. Even with President Obama in office, fearmongers still paralyze us. Our fidelity to the first principle of democracy - that an innocent man mustn't be imprisoned - has been lost.
But I was wrong about our allies. In Bermuda, the government saw the matter in simple terms. Innocent men were rotting in a prison. Bermuda was able to offer a little help. The U.S. should be doing this itself, but a Christian is concerned with his own acts of charity, not the uncharitability of others.
Now I'm sure the Premier knew this would be politically unpopular. As I'm sure Minister Burch did. I asked the minister about it. He said, "I don't care about the politics. This is an humanitarian matter. It is as simple as that."
"I was a stranger," Matthew says, "and you welcomed me." And so Bermuda extended the hand of welcome to these strangers. God Bless her for doing so. She has quite shamed the larger nations of the world, like my own, which should have done this a long time ago. In time she will come to know her four new islanders and be reassured. The row will die down. In time, Bermuda will rejoice in the simple act of decency that her Government undertook in her name.

Sabin Willett is a lawyer for the four Uighur refugees.