It is hard to know whether a group of prisoners being released from the U.S. prison at Guantanamo deserve an apology or if the whole business is really a Stephen Colbert routine. At best, it is an example of the absurdities that arise when global problems are addressed with shoot-from-the-hip improvisation.
The prisoners are Uighurs (roughly: WEE-gurz), members of a predominantly Muslim, ethnically Turkic minority found mainly in China's northwestern Xingjian province. It is a part of the world described by The Associated Press as "a land of scorching deserts, snowcapped mountains, camels and mosques." The capital city, Urumqi, is said to be the city in all the world most distant from any sea.
Twenty-two Uighurs were captured in Afghanistan and Pakistan in 2001 - apparently by Pakistani bounty hunters - as part of the American response to al-Qaida after the Sept. 11 attacks. They have been held by the United States ever since. Their fate reflects, as much as anything, the confusing realities of globalization and the even more perplexing notion of defining terrorism.
As a people, the Uighurs have not always been treated well by the Chinese central government. In turn, Uighur nationalist groups long have advocated carving out a separate Uighur state and occasionally have clashed with Chinese authorities. The Beijing government considers the separatists terrorists - and that includes the men who were taken to Guantanamo.
That presented a problem. Last year, the Bush administration determined that the Uighurs were not "enemy combatants" or terrorists and, at least from an American perspective, had done nothing wrong. But what to do with them?
The one country that wanted them was China. But, although most of the contents of a typical Wal-Mart might say "made in China," in American political terms, it still is Red China. So, from Washington's point of view, that would amount to returning people who objected to communist tyranny to that same communist regime, presumably to be imprisoned, tortured or killed.
But the rest of the world was not exactly lined up to accept prisoners from Guantanamo. Five of the Uighurs were sent to Albania in 2006, over the protests of the Chinese government, but other offers were lacking.
The remaining 17, however, turned out to be luckier. Four were sent to Bermuda last week, while 13 are heading to Palau - a tiny island nation 500 miles east of the Philippines where the No. 1 industry is tourism.
So, these guys go from the back of beyond to Sandals? Muslim men captured in Taliban country are headed to beach resorts where the conventional attire for women is a bikini? Erstwhile terror suspects snorkeling with the dolphins?
Colbert could not top this.
Even then, there is more to the story. The Bermuda deal turns out to have been a locally made decision. The British government is reported to be furious that it was not consulted.
And it probably is just a coincidence that Palau has one of the few remaining governments that recognizes Taiwan as the legitimate China - or that the United States has pledged $200 million to Palau for long-term development. That would be more than $9,500 for every one of its 21,000 people.
We should remember, however, that the Uighurs being released are people the U.S. government has exonerated - and who nonetheless were imprisoned for more than seven years. And we should hope that of all the consequences that could stem from Guantanamo, this silliness is as bad as it gets.