Supreme Court to Hear Appeal of Uighurs Still at Guantanamo

Article excerpt

The US Supreme Court agreed Tuesday to hear the case of a group of Guantanamo detainees, Uighurs from China, whose judicially- ordered release into the United States has been blocked by the White House and Congress.

The case, Kiyemba v. Obama, is a potential landmark, pitting the power of the judiciary to vindicate constitutionally-protected habeas corpus rights against the power of the White House and Congress to police US borders and enforce immigration laws.

The case involves members of the Uighur ethnic group of western China who have been held for eight years at the US terror prison camp at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. In October 2008, a federal judge ordered the men released into the US pending efforts by the US government to find a suitable third country for resettlement.

The release order came in answer to the men's habeas corpus petition in which they claimed they were being illegally detained by the US and that they were not, and never had been, enemy combatants or Al Qaeda allies. Habeas corpus grants US prisoners the right to challenge the legality of their detention before a neutral judge.

Government lawyers did not dispute the judge's finding that the men were being illegally detained, but insisted that a judge does not have the power to order the executive branch to accept into the US someone it does not wish to admit.

A federal appeals court in Washington agreed with the White House, reversing the portion of the release order that directed the detainees to be brought to the US.

Instead, the men remained within the prison camp at Guantanamo. US officials say they enjoy the least restrictive conditions of confinement possible there, but their lawyers argue that once a judge orders someone released from illegal detention, they should be set free.

Some Uighurs resettled in Bermuda

The Supreme Court was set to decide whether to hear the Uighurs appeal last June, but took no action amid press reports that all or most of the detainees might soon be relocated to third countries. Normally, such detainees would simply be returned to their native country, but the Uighurs are an oppressed minority in China and fear abuse from authorities there.

Four of the original 17 Uighur detainees were transferred to Bermuda in June. Solicitor General Elena Kagan informed the high court in a Sept.23 letter that the south Pacific island of Palau had agreed to accept 12 of the remaining 13 Uighurs.

But only six of the 12 Uighurs had agreed to resettle in Palau, Ms. …