Published June 12, 2009
White House spokesman Robert Gibbs told reporters Friday that the decision to move the ethnic Uighurs was not hasty and had been ordered by a court. He noted that five detainees had been transferred to Albania in 2005 and 2006 and there has been "no record of -- of acting violent since that transfer."
Gibbs said the Bush administration and a federal court ruled that the remaining 17 Uighurs left in Guantanamo had been declared as not enemy combatants and had to be moved out of prison.
"They've been waiting for a location for resettlement. I don't think moving them was hasty. And I don't think the decisions that are being made are hasty," Gibbs said.
But the transfer of the Uighurs has been criticized not only by Republican members of Congress but by the governments of the United Kingdom, which owns the territory of Bermuda, and China, which wants the Uighurs returned.
On Friday, some members of the Bermudan government who said they'd not been informed of the transfer, questioned the wisdom of moving the inmates to the island located 640 miles off North Carolina, saying it could hurt tourism, Bermuda's chief industry.
"When an American is watching an ad (for Bermuda) it hits my mind as an American, they saw the level of intense media attention, I say to myself, 'Hmm, that's the country that accepted Guantanamo Bay detainees' ... This is a fact, mark my words, tourism will be affected by this," said Donte Hunt, a deputy party chairman for the United Bermuda Party, the government's opposition party.
But the Bermudan government defended its decision to take the Uighurs, who the U.S. feared would face torture if sent to China. Minister of Education, Elvin James, a staunch ally of Prime Minister Ewart Brown, lamented the attention that's been paid to the nation, but said the "constant criticism" is unfair.
"If we have people here who are homeless, does it not mean we can take care of four more? ... That's the love we need to show here today," James said during a boisterous parliamentary session that mimics the British system.
"We have people here, taken against their will, proven to be innocent, and now they want a chance to survive and earn a decent living," James said, earning loud laughter from opponents.
James also said that the decision not to consult the British government before accepting the Uighurs will be dealt with at another time.
"We'll take care of protocol later ... It's too late to follow protocol," he said.
Hunt said that if terror suspects had moved into his neighborhood, he'd want to have been advised prior to their arrival. He also complained that officials have defended their decision by saying the four Uighurs were "vetted."
"What in the world does that mean? Vetted? That's a loaded word," Hunt said. "Does vetting mean that these gentlemen have gone through an extensive psychological review? Was there time spent with a psychologist, someone with the means to understand their background, and how they will react in civilized environments?"
Hunt added that while the Uighurs were declared non-combatants to the U.S. government, "they were combatants by their own admission to the Chinese government. At least one of them said they received training to fight against the Chinese government ... By their own admission.
"Do we understand the Chinese thought and possible response?" he asked.
Back in the U.S., Rep. Pete Hoekstra, R-Mich., the ranking member on the House Intelligence Committee, also questioned the Obama administration's decision not to let Congress know ahead of time that it was going to release some detainees.
"The Obama administration not only failed to discuss beforehand its release of trained terrorists from Guantanamo Bay with Congress, it also apparently failed to discuss it with our nation's closest ally, the United Kingdom. Understandably, this failure has caused great diplomatic and national security outrage in Britain, which is responsible for the security and foreign policy of Bermuda," Hoekstra said in a statement.
"The administration's actions have also caused increased tension between Britain and China, which has long-demanded the return of the Uighurs while pressuring other nations not to accept them," he added.
Hoekstra said he wants to know how much money is being paid to nations accepting Guantanamo inmates and the plans it is implementing to keep trained terrorists from returning to the battleground or otherwise making their way toward attacking the U.S. military.
"The American people have made clear their feelings about bringing terrorist detainees to the United States, their concerns about the ability of these people to travel and the administration's plans to ensure the proper monitoring of the terrorists should also be addressed. The administration clearly owes the nation some answers on its Guantanamo efforts," Hoekstra said.
While not ruling in or out whether detainees would end up in the United States, Gibbs said progress has been made this week in the administration's goal of closing the detention center in Cuba by early next year, a move that has broad support in Europe and elsewhere.
He added that the administration is "not going to make any decisions about transfer or release that threaten the security of this country, and that these cases are being evaluated as they come, on a case-by-case basis."
FOX News' Mike Levine contributed to this report from Bermuda.