US detainees are no threat, but lose appeal

US Supreme Court declines to take up case of China's Uighurs, who remain at Guantánamo because they have no place to go.

By , Staff writer of The Christian Science Monitor

Compared with most other detainees at the US Naval Base at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba, Abu Bakker Qassim and Adel Abdu al-Hakim have a strong argument for why they should be immediately released from the terrorism prison camp.

According to the United States military, they are neither terrorists nor "enemy combatants."

So why are they being held at the camp nearly a year after a military panel ruled that they pose no threat to the US? They have no place else to go. Their appeal for freedom suffered a setback Monday.

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The US government says that if the two men are sent home to the semi-autonomous western region of China they might face human rights abuses, and even torture, at the hands of Chinese authorities. Both men are members of the Uighur minority religious and ethnic group which has been the target of a Chinese government crackdown in recent years. They were captured after being trained with the Taliban in Afghanistan.

No other country has been willing to take them. And the Bush administration refuses to allow them to enter the US, even temporarily, out of fear of establishing a legal precedent that might be used by lawyers for other Guantánamo detainees.

On Monday, the US Supreme Court declined to take up the case. Instead, the matter will be argued on May 8 before a federal appeals court panel in Washington, D.C. At issue is what power, if any, federal judges have in the matter.

Qassim v. Bush is a potential landmark case involving separation of powers issues.

Lawyers for the two men had urged the administration to permit them to enter the US pending their permanent resettlement elsewhere. When the administration refused, they asked a federal judge to order the government to release the men from the Guantánamo prison camp and admit them into the US.

The federal judge ruled that they were being held illegally, but he said he was powerless to order their release.

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