US Supreme court to hear Guantanamo Bay cases

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Guantanamo Bay
Image: Rafał Pocztarski.

The United States Supreme Court accepted a request yesterday to hear a case from 13 ethnic Uighur (Chinese Muslim) inmates. Currently held at the US military base in Guantanamo Bay, they are requesting release to the United States, contrary to a measure voted last week by the House of Representatives permitting the transfer of prisoners to the US for trial, but explicitly forbidding their release to the US. Congress passed the legislation yesterday.

The legislation requires an assessment of potential security risks, including what dangers are involved, how the threat can be diminished, legal arguments and assurances about the detainee's level of risk to the relevant state governor, to be provided 45 days prior to prosecution in the US. Under these measures, the President must provide Congress with the detainee's name, destination, a risk assessment, and transfer terms in order to release them to another country.

The Uighurs are still being detained, despite the Pentagon clearing them of all charges in 2004. A federal judge ruled in February that they be released to the US. However an appeals court overturned the decision in February saying that only the executive branch, not federal judges, had jurisdiction on immigration matters.

The Supreme Court will hear the case in early 2010 and will have to decide whether or not federal judges may order their release to US soil. However, President Barack Obama promised to close the detention centre by January 22, and the implications for cases pending review are unclear. Of the 220 remaining detainees, 80 are awaiting release and 60 prosecution.

The Uighurs have been detained at Guantanamo for over seven years. They are part of a group of 22 suspected terrorists who were captured in Afghanistan and Pakistan after the invasion in October 2001 to remove the ruling Taliban; after being held on charges of training in Al-Qaeda camps they were moved to the detention centre in Cuba.

The US government has made efforts to relocate the prisoners. Five went to Albania in 2006 and another four went to Bermuda in June. The island of Palau has said it will take twelve, leaving just one. However, some of the Uighurs are worried that Palau is too close to China, where the ethnic group suffers from religious and political discrimination and are treated as separatists in the Xinjiang region.