Guantanamo Uighurs take case to US Supreme Court

8th April 2009, Comments 0 comments

The case would be the first to deal with terror detainees that has come before the Supreme Court since President Barack Obama came to power in January.

Washington -- Fourteen Chinese Uighurs who have been detained at Guantanamo prison without charge for seven years on Monday petitioned the Supreme Court for their release.

The case would be the first to deal with terror detainees that has come before the Supreme Court since President Barack Obama came to power in January.

The men -- captured in Afghanistan -- have asked for the top court to lift a bar imposed on their release by a federal court of appeals in Washington, according to the request filed on Monday.

The 14, who are members of the predominantly Muslim and Turkic-speaking Uighur minority, have been cleared of accusations that they were "enemy combatants," but legal wrangling over their fate continues.

The case has become a major political headache for the Obama administration, which has sought to avoid a major diplomatic bust up with China at the same time as unpicking detention policies of the preceding administration of president George W. Bush.

Although Obama has launched a wide-ranging review of policy on Guantanamo, individual cases have been moving through the court system ahead of its completion, including the Uighur case.

In October, federal judge Ricardo Urbina ordered the release of 17 Uighurs to US soil, but in February that decision was overturned.

Three men have since asked lawyers not to continue their case.

Now the Supreme Court has been asked to rule on whether a federal court can order the release of the prisoners in the United States.

A court of appeal had ruled the executive branch was the only body with the power to release the men.

"The question presented here is whether the third branch may check the second at all," the Uighurs' lawyers argued in Monday's petition.

The legal team argued that a prisoner's ability to challenge their detention -- a Habeas Corpus writ -- can only be addressed by the president, if their detention was sanctioned by that office.

"If Habeas (Corpus) review may be shelved because one president may some day undo what his predecessor did, then the law is whatever the sitting president says it is, and the judiciary is the handmaiden of the political branch."

"We are hopeful that we can get a hearing sometime in the fall," Susan Baker Manning, a lawyer for the group, told AFP.

The Defence Department and the State Department have tried unsuccessfully for several years to arrange the transfer of the Uighurs to a third country, saying they face the risk of persecution if they return to China.

The Obama administration has said it "cannot imagine" sending the inmates back to China.

Beijing regards the men as "Chinese terrorists."

The Uighurs were living in a self-contained camp in Afghanistan when the US-led bombing campaign began in October 2001.

They fled to the mountains, but were turned over to Pakistani authorities, who then handed them over to the United States.

But casting around for a third country to accept them has proven difficult.

Canada and the German city of Munich are among those who have said they would accept the group, prompting angry warnings from Beijing.


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