Supreme Court dismisses appeal by Uighurs held at Guantanamo
The Supreme Court Monday decided not to hear the appeal of a group of Uighurs who have been held without charge at Guantanamo Bay for eight years. The case was originally scheduled for the high court's docket March 23.
The US Supreme Court decided Monday not to hear the appeal of a group of Uighurs, members of an ethnic group from western China, who have been held without charge at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba, for eight years.Skip to next paragraph
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The high court had agreed to take up their case to examine whether a federal judge acted within his authority when he ordered the government to bring the detainees from Guantánamo to the United States for release pending their possible resettlement in a third country. Its decision came three weeks before the justices were originally scheduled to hear the case.
The case, Jamal Kiyemba v. Obama, had the potential to be one of the most important of the current term, raising difficult questions about national security and a potential clash between the executive and judicial branches of government.
Government lawyers argued that the judge exceeded his authority in ordering the release as part of the Uighurs’ successful habeas corpus challenge. Justice Department lawyers said that the executive branch controls immigration and has the exclusive authority to decide who may or may not be admitted into the US.
A federal appeals court panel sided with the government. The Uighurs appealed to the Supreme Court, and the justices had agreed to hear their case March 23. (For more Monitor coverage of the case, click here.)
In the meantime, the Obama administration continued to work to resettle the Uighurs in a third country. They could not be returned to their native China under US law because, as a disfavored ethnic minority, they feared possible abuse and torture by the Chinese government.
Of 22 Uighurs originally detained at Guantanamo, five were resettled to Albania, four went to Bermuda, and six to Palau. By early 2010, all but one of the remaining seven Uighurs had been offered resettlement in at least one other country.
The fact that one Uighur was still being held without a resettlement offer undercut government arguments that the case should be dismissed.
That changed on Feb. 3, when the Obama administration secured a resettlement offer from Switzerland for Arkin Mahmoud, the last Uighur to receive such an offer, and his brother, Bahiya Mahnut. Once the two accepted the offer, the government was then able to argue to the Supreme Court that the conditions underlying the original order by the federal judge had now substantially changed.
At the time of the original order, the Uighurs argued that they had no other option for release than to come to the US pending resettlement. With the Swiss offer, all the Uighurs had received at least one resettlement offer outside the US.