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Supreme Court to hear appeal of Uighurs still at Guantánamo

The Supreme Court Tuesday agreed to hear the case of Uighur detainees remaining at the Guantánamo prison camp. Their release into the US has been blocked by the White House and Congress.

By Staff writer of The Christian Science Monitor / October 20, 2009

In this June 1 file photo reviewed by the US military, Chinese Uighur Guantanamo detainees, who at the time were cleared for release but had no country to go to, show a home-made note to visiting members of the media.

Brennan Linsley/AP/File


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

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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 Guantánamo 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 Guantánamo. 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.