The Uighurs to Get Their Day in Court

For the first time since President Barack Obama took office nine months ago, the Supreme Court has decided to hear a case regarding the release of detainees held in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.

The court said today that it will tackle the question of whether a federal court has the power to order the release on U.S. soil of prisoners who are no longer considered a threat by U.S. authorities.

The case was brought by 14 ethnic Muslims from China called Uighurs, many of whom were picked up in Afghanistan and Pakistan seven years ago and brought to Guantanamo Bay.

The U.S. government has since determined that the Uighurs are not a terrorist threat but has had a difficult time figuring out what to do with them. Because the Uighurs fear persecution in China, the administration has had to look for third-party countries willing to accept the men.

A federal judge stunned some people in the legal community last October with a ruling that the Uighurs could be freed on U.S. soil. A federal appeals court later overturned the decision, finding that the court could not order the release of the prisoners outside of the framework of U.S. immigration laws and against the wishes of the executive branch.

Since the decision, the administration has stepped up its efforts to resettle the Uighurs and has placed four of them in Bermuda. The U.S. government hopes that the case will be considered moot after it finds a country willing to take the remaining Uighurs.

In court briefs, the government writes, "The government has engaged in extensive diplomatic efforts to resettle the petitioners, but it has not yet located an appropriate foreign country willing to accept them. These resettlement efforts remain ongoing."

Obama Close to a Plan for Detainees

The American Civil Liberties Union praised the court's action today. "The case will affect not only the Uighurs but other detainees who have won rights to challenge their detention," said the ACLU's Jonathan Hafetz, who assists Guantanamo detainees.

The Obama administration has said it is close to unveiling its plan to deal with the nearly 220 detainees remaining in Guantanamo Bay. Government prosecutors have completed a review of the detainees and have begun the process of recommending to the Justice Department a number of detainees who may be prosecuted in federal court or military commissions.