The Supreme Court agreed Tuesday to hear the appeal of 13 Chinese Muslims at Guantanamo Bay naval base who are cleared for release yet are still being held.
The justices rejected the Obama administration’s plea that they stay out of the case. Since 2004, the court has issued decisions ensuring that judges play a strong role in protecting prisoner rights at the U.S.-run naval base in Cuba.
The Uighurs, members of a Muslim minority originally living in western China, had fled to Afghanistan. After the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks and U.S. invasion of Afghanistan, they were among hundreds of men transferred to U.S. forces and sent to Guantanamo.
They initially were held as “enemy combatants,” but that status was lifted. They would be free to return to China if they did not fear persecution there. This summer, ethnic rioting in Western China led to a crackdown on Uighurs.
A district court judge last year ordered the Uighurs brought to the U.S. and freed, but an appeals court reversed.
Administration lawyers argue in a brief that judges lack the power to order the release into the U.S. “outside of the framework of the immigration laws.” Lawyers for the Uighurs counter that judges may intervene when the government has “brought the prisoners to our threshold, imprisons them … without legal justification, and — as seven years have so poignantly proved — there is nowhere else to go.”
The case will test the strength of a 2008 Supreme Court decision giving Guantanamo detainees a constitutional right to challenge their imprisonment.
Obama has set to close Guantanamo by January 22 of next year. The administration has been working on developing resettlement options for the Uighurs but has had little success.