Leaving Guantanamo Chinese Muslims In Limbo, Supreme Court Refuses Case

Apr 18, 2011

The five remaining Chinese Muslims being held at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba have lost a last ditch appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court. They will likely spend the rest of their lives in detention unless they agree to something they have so far resisted — resettlement outside of the United States.

The U.S. government has long conceded the men, known as Uighurs, were wrongly picked up in Pakistan after 9/11 and wrongly imprisoned at Guantanamo.

But the Uighurs could not be returned to their homes in China, where they would likely face torture or death.

In recent years, 17 of the men have been resettled in Switzerland, Bermuda, Albania, Sweden, and on the tiny Pacificisland of Palau. The remaining five prisoners have refused such offers. They want to go to Turkey, which is not willing to take them. So they have appealed repeatedly through the federal court system seeking release into the U.S. In 2008 a federal judge ruled that since there never had been grounds to hold the men, that they should be released into the United States. But a federal appeals court in Washington, D.C., subsequently reversed that order, declaring that the judge had exceeded his authority. And on Monday, the Supreme Court refused to review their case.

Only eight justices participated in the case, and that may have had something to do with the Court's decision to stay out of the matter. Justice Elena Kagan was recused because she was involved in the case as an advocate during her service as solicitor general. That left the possibility that the Court could have been equally divided on the question posed in the case — whether the courts have the power to release into the U.S., a prisoner who has been wrongly detained.

Justice Stephen Breyer writing for himself and three other justices, however, suggested that the Court should not involve itself in a case like this where there are alternatives to release into the United States. He said that given "the lack of any meaningful challenge" to the appropriateness of the resettlement offers, as well as "the government's uncontested commitment to continue to work to resettle," he saw "no government-imposed obstacle to [the men's] timely release and appropriate resettlement." Justices Anthony Kennedy, Ruth Bader Ginsburg, and Sonia Sotomayor joined Breyer's statement.

Monday's order means that if the men continue to refuse resettlement, they will have to stay at Guantanamo. Copyright 2011 National Public Radio. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.