Supreme Court declines case: US can move detainees without notice

The Supreme Court declined to hear a case on whether federal judges can require the US to give 30 days notice of any plan to move Guantánamo detainees to another country.

James Whittaker/AFP
Khalil Mamut, working at the Port Royal golf course in Southampton, Bermuda, in this Aug. 10, 2009, photo, is one of four Uighurs who was held at Guantánamo Bay but has since been released to Bermuda. Five Uighurs remain at the detention facility, and the Supreme Court declined a case relating to how they might be transferred to another country.

The US Supreme Court on Monday declined to take up an appeal by a group of Guantánamo Bay detainees seeking the ability to challenge US efforts to resettle them in third countries where they may face human rights abuses.

The high court action lets stand a ruling by the federal appeals court in Washington. That ruling states that US district judges hearing habeas corpus petitions filed by Guantánamo detainees do not have authority to order the government to provide the detainees 30 days notice before transferring them from Guantánamo to another country for resettlement.

The case involved members of China’s Uighur ethnic minority who are being held at Guantánamo despite government concessions that they are no longer considered enemy combatants of the US.

The Supreme Court had agreed earlier to take up a different appeal by the same group of Uighurs examining the power of federal judges to order the transfer of Guantánamo detainees into the US over the objection of the executive branch. But the high court dismissed that appeal before it was heard. The case was sent back to the lower courts.

The case

This second appeal, Kiyemba v. Obama, focused on the issue of whether the detainees and their lawyers were entitled to notice before the government took actions that could render moot pending legal challenges in American courts.

A federal judge had ordered the government to provide one-month notice. An appeals court panel reversed that decision.

The Uighurs and their lawyers had asked the high court to hear their case. They argued that the issue would affect more than 100 other Guantánamo detainees with pending cases in federal court. In some instances, the government was seeking to send the detainees back to their home countries where they feared hostile treatment and torture.

In urging the high court to dismiss the appeal, the Obama administration stressed that US policy bars the government from sending detainees to countries where they might face human rights abuses and torture. Government lawyers argued that a court-imposed requirement of advanced notice of a transfer would interfere with the government’s ability to carry out sensitive diplomatic negotiations related to detainee transfers.

Of the 22 Uighurs sent to Guantánamo, five have been resettled in Albania, four in Bermuda, and six in Palau. Two others have agreed to resettle in Switzerland.

Uighurs don't want to go back to China

The government stressed in its brief that the five remaining Uighurs have all received resettlement offers from two different countries. Government lawyers insist that the Uighurs will not be returned to China, where the US believes they face a credible threat of government abuse and torture.

In his brief on behalf of the Uighurs, Christopher Moore said the 30-day notice issue is important to a large group of Guantánamo detainees given the administration’s plans to close the terror detention facility.

“Even accepting the government’s claims with respect to the Uighurs at face value, the government intends to relocate many other detainees to their home countries despite their well-founded fears of torture or continued detention upon return,” Mr. Moore wrote.

In some cases, he said, detainees may be sent into the custody of an abusive government without any opportunity for judicial review.

“If the court declines to hear [the Uighurs’] claims, permitting the government to transfer detainees without notice in this and other cases, the government may evade review of its policy altogether,” Moore wrote.

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