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Life After Guantanamo: Why the Media's Happy-Ending Narrative Is Totally Bankrupt

The transfer of four Uighur prisoners to Bermuda has been treated like a happy human-interest story, but the truth is far darker.
 
 
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"From Gitmo to Paradise!"

So came the news via MSNBC last week, echoing the upbeat tone of so many covering the sudden transfer of four Uighur prisoners from Guantanamo Bay to Bermuda. Broadcasting images of beaming bearded men in bucolic surroundings, the happy-ending narrative offered by the media was perfectly captured in a June 14 New York Times story: "Out of Guantanamo, Uighurs Bask in Bermuda."

"Almost exactly seven years after arriving at Guantánamo in chains as accused enemy combatants, and four days after their surprise predawn flight to Bermuda," the Times reported, "four Uighur Muslim men basked in their newfound freedom here, grateful for the handshakes many residents had offered and marveling at the serene beauty of this tidy, postcard island."

The Times followed the Uighurs as they went about "smelling hibiscus flowers" and "luxuriating in the freedom to drift through scenic streets and harbors," painting a portrait of wide-eyed disbelief.

"I went swimming in the ocean for the first time ever yesterday," Salahidin Abdulahat, age 32, said. "It was the happiest day of my life."

We're supposed to love these stories, tales of epic injustice overturned. Sweeter still if the aggrieved parties -- in this case, four men who for the most part spent the better part of their 20s wrongfully imprisoned by the United States -- have nothing but peace in their hearts.

"Before, we were asking, 'Why are the Americans doing this to us?' " Abdulahat recalled. "Now, he said, with others nodding in agreement, 'We have ended up in such a beautiful place. We don't want to look back, and we don't have any hard feelings toward the United States.' "

It should come as no surprise that the newly freed Uighurs -- Abdul Nasser, Huzaifa Parhat, Abdul Semet (also known as Salahidin Abdulahat) and Jalal Jalaladin (also known as Abdullah Abdulquadirakhun) -- have been treated as a heartwarming human interest story. (The next step would seem to be their own reality TV show.)

But once the reporters are gone and the euphoria wears off, where, exactly, will the Uighurs be? How will they make a living? Will they be allowed to travel? Will they ever see their families again?

None of these questions have clear answers. Bermudan authorities say the men will have guest-worker status and may be able to apply for citizenship, at which point they will be able to travel. (Although not necessarily to the United States.)

This might come off as a ridiculously sweet deal to such craven politicians as Newt Gingrich -- who wrote last month that the Uighurs are "trained mass killers" who want to "establish a separate Sharia state" -- or the ignorant pundits at Fox News (who have balked at the fact that the Uighurs are under "basically no surveillance" in Bermuda -- "They don't have any ankle bracelets!"). But for those who understand that the Uighurs were never "enemy combatants" to begin with -- the Bush administration acknowledged this as early as 2003 -- packing them off to a tropical island with little more than what they had on them when they were arrested seven years ago sounds a lot like exile.

Granted, the men appear to be resilient: "The four men want to open up the island's first Uighur restaurant," MSNBC's Contessa Brewer reported this week. "They say they will serve noodles and lamb."

But, she added, wryly, "It might be tough without any money. When they were sent to Bermuda, they got to keep their watches and copies of the Quran -- that's it."