Supreme Court To Hear New Guantanamo Case

Uighurs i i

Former Guantanamo detainees (left to right) Khelil Mamut, Ablakim Turahun, and Salahidin Abdulahat eat ice cream at a shop near Hamilton, on the island of Bermuda, in June. The three Chinese Uighurs were released from U.S. military custody after years in the prison. The Supreme Court agreed Tuesday to take up the question of the other Uighurs being held at Guantanamo even though they are not considered a threat to the U.S. Brennan Linsley/AP hide caption

itoggle caption Brennan Linsley/AP
Uighurs

Former Guantanamo detainees (left to right) Khelil Mamut, Ablakim Turahun, and Salahidin Abdulahat eat ice cream at a shop near Hamilton, on the island of Bermuda, in June. The three Chinese Uighurs were released from U.S. military custody after years in the prison. The Supreme Court agreed Tuesday to take up the question of the other Uighurs being held at Guantanamo even though they are not considered a threat to the U.S.

Brennan Linsley/AP

The U.S. Supreme Court has stepped back into the controversy over what to do about detainees at Guantanamo who have been found to pose no threat to the United States.

The justices said today that they will review the case of Chinese Muslims, known as Uighurs, held at Guantanamo Bay since 2002. These are individuals whom the government has long agreed are not enemy combatants and are no threat to the United States.

Last year, the Supreme Court ruled that the federal courts have the power to order the release of men who are being held without justification. And a federal Judge in Washington did just that, ordering some of the Uighurs released into Virginia where a community of Uighur immigrants was willing to accept them.

A federal appeals court overturned that decision, declaring that the lower court judge had exceeded his authority. Now the Supreme Court has agreed to determine whether these men, and by implication, others, may be held in prison while the U.S. seeks to find some other country to accept them.

The case sets up what could be a major separation of powers battle between the judicial, executive, and legislative branches of government. Or the case could fizzle out if the Uighurs are resettled in other countries before it is heard and decided sometime after the first of the year. That gives the Obama administration months to try to find places for these men.

Four of the 17 Uighurs were recently resettled in Bermuda. Palau has agreed to take another 12 of the men, according to Sabin Wilett, a lawyer for the men, but only six of them have agreed to go. And no country has been willing to take one of the Uighurs, a man named Arkin Mahmud because of his mental health problems. His brother is one of those who has refused Palau's invitation because he doesn't want to leave his ailing sibling in Guantanamo.

Lawyers for the detainees maintain that the constitutional right to challenge one's imprisonment, known as the writ of habeas corpus, would be meaningless if an individual who has won his case remains in prison while the government decides what to do with him. But, in a brief filed in the Supreme Court, the Obama administration counters that " there is a fundamental difference between ordering the release of a detained alien to permit him to return home, or to another country and ordering that he be brought to and released in the United States without regard to immigration laws."

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