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Supreme Court refuses to hear Guantánamo Bay detainee case

The Supreme Court turned aside a second appeal from five Uighurs, held at Guantánamo Bay's prison camp since 2002 despite admissions from the Bush administration that they are neither enemy combatants nor connected to Al Qaeda or the Taliban.

By Staff writer / April 18, 2011

In this 2009 photo, Chinese Uighur detainees at the U.S. Naval Base in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba – who are cleared for release – show a homemade note to visiting members of the media.

Brennan Linsley / AP / File

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Washington

The US Supreme Court on Monday declined to take up the plight of five detainees at Guantánamo who were ordered released in 2008, but still remain at the detention camp in a dispute over whether they could be transferred to the US pending their resettlement to another country.

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The action marks the second time the high court has turned back an appeal by the same group of men, all members of China’s persecuted Uighur minority. Last year, the justices refused to hear the Uighurs’ case after the government revealed that all of the men had received at least two offers for resettlement in a third country, but had rejected them.

Justice Stephen Breyer cited the same issue in the high court’s refusal Monday to take up the case. “Under present circumstances, I see no government-imposed obstacle to petitioners’ timely release and appropriate resettlement,” he wrote in a two-page statement. The comment was joined by Justices Anthony Kennedy, Ruth Bader Ginsburg, and Sonia Sotomayor.

The five Uighurs have been held without charge at Guantánamo since 2002. Normally, detainees released from Guantánamo are sent to their home country. But because the Uighurs are a persecuted group whose members might be subject to torture or other punishment if returned to their native western China, the US government sought to find another appropriate country – other than China – for resettlement.

Why were the men at Guantánamo?

The five men were among 22 Uighurs who were captured and sold to US forces in Afghanistan by bounty hunters in 2002. The US military transported the men to the prison camp at Guantánamo. They have no known connection to Al Qaeda or the Taliban.

Eventually, volunteer lawyers in the US exposed the situation and the US government conceded that the Uighurs were neither enemy combatants nor a danger to US national security.

The US negotiated the resettlement of five of the Uighurs in Albania in 2006. But 17 Uighurs remained in limbo at Guantánamo.

Who controls access to the US?

The Bush administration assured the federal judge in the case that it was working diligently to locate an appropriate country willing to resettle the men, but after significant delays, the judge ordered the government to bring the Uighurs to his courtroom.

That’s the key issue in the latest appeal: Does a federal judge have the constitutional power to order the government to bring foreign nationals into the US? No, said the Obama and Bush administrations.

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