WASHINGTON – The Supreme Court agreed Tuesday to decide whether Guantanamo detainees who are considered no threat can be ordered released in the United States – over the objections of the Obama administration and Congress – if the prisoners have nowhere else to go.
The case could further complicate the administration’s plans to close the Guantanamo prison where 220 or so men are still held.
The court’s fourth look at the terror-suspects detention system, created by the Bush administration following the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks, will focus on 13 Chinese Muslims, most of whom were cleared by the Pentagon for release in 2003. Six years later – and eight years after their capture in Pakistan and Afghanistan in 2001 – they remain in custody at the U.S. naval base in Cuba. The first three high court decisions were rebukes to the government for denying detainees their day in court.
The justices said they will hear a challenge from the Chinese Muslims, or Uighurs, who are asking the court to put some teeth into its June 2008 ruling that said federal judges could ultimately order some detainees to be released, depending on security concerns and other circumstances.
Acting after the Supreme Court ruling, a federal judge in Washington said the Uighurs must be released immediately into the United States because their continued confinement was unjustified and the U.S. government could find no country willing to take them.
A federal appeals court, however, said the judge lacked the authority to order detainees released into the United States, setting up the new high court challenge.
The Uighurs say the ability to go before a federal judge is worthless if the judge ultimately has no power to free people who are being wrongly held.
The justices will hear the argument early in 2010, although it is possible that if the administration succeeds in relocating the Uighurs by then, the case could be dismissed.