Supreme Court Weighs Freeing Chinese Muslims

The case surfaces a power struggle between the courts and executive branch

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The Supreme Court has announced it will hear the case of 13 detainees who, though deemed not to be enemy combatants, are still held at Guantanamo. The detainees, Chinese Muslim Uighurs, have asked not to be returned to China for fear of torture, and no other country has agreed to take them. If the Supreme Court sides with the detainees, they would likely be released into the U.S., something both the Bush and Obama White Houses have moved to prevent. The case, then, is as much about the Constitutionality of detention as it is a power struggle between the courts and the executive branch.

  • Supreme Court Pushes Back Supreme Court analyst Lyle Denniston wrote at SCOTUSblog that this is part of larger battle between the court and an unrestrained White House. "They have been able to [continue detention policies] largely without looking over their shoulders to see what the Supreme Court might do to limit their options. That has just changed," he writes. "At its core, then, the three-way government contemplation in coming months of the law of detention is not so much a polite minuet as it is a serious rivalry between energetic branches determined to protect their own prerogatives. If the rivalry stays focused on constitutional interpretation, though, the Justices -- with the 'power and duty to say what the law is' -- may well have the last word."
  • White House Ignores Court's Rulings The American Prospect's Adam Serwer explains the court system's struggle against the executive branch. "The perspective of the folks representing the detainees is that once a court determines that the government has no right to detain a particular individual, they should be let go. In practice they say, the entire process has slowed down because the courts know that the only thing they can do is recommend that the government initiate the diplomatic process for facilitating a detainees' release. As a result, despite the fact that 30 out of 38 habeas petitions have been granted to Gitmo detainees, no more than 13 have been released. In other words, the administration and the task force ultimately decide when and where detainees are released--which from the perspective of civil libertarians, it means the habeas proceedings are almost meaningless."
  • Supreme Court Doesn't Understand Al Qaeda The Weekly Standard's Thomas Joscelyn worries, "There are a lot of reasons to be skeptical about the Supreme Court's ability to get it right here." Joscelyn cites a previous Supreme Court case, Gates v. Parha, which he says demonstrated the court's "fundamental ignorance" when dealing with terrorists. "This is the September 10 mindset -- only worse. Federal courts with no particular knowledge of or expertise in understanding al Qaeda are determining how America's warriors can fight back. What makes this particularly troubling is that President Obama has cited the courts' habeas decisions, including the specious Parhat ruling, as a prime reason that Gitmo detainees need to be released or transferred."
  • Obama Continues Bush-Era Policies Huffington Post's Andy Worthington calls the current White House's extension of Bush's policy "the weakest moments of the Obama presidency regarding Guantánamo" and calls for their release. "As the eighth anniversary of the men's wrongful capture approaches, they surely deserve nothing less." Worthington writes of their detention, "Had the government backed down, the four Uighurs who took up residence in Bermuda in June -- where they soon demonstrated to any open-minded local that they were not, and had never been terrorists -- would have performed the same remarkable task on the streets of Washington, D.C. instead, and even Americans seduced by the Bush administration's unsubstantiated rhetoric about the 'terrorists' of Guantánamo would have been able to discover, first hand, that the Bush administration made mistakes at Guantánamo, and that innocent men were held."
  • Freedom is Fundamental: Release Uighurs Steven D of the liberal blog Booman Tribune is outraged that anyone would want innocents to continue in prison. "Some fundamental principles are more important than inconveniencing any administration. One of those is the right of people being held unlawfully by the government to challenge that detention. We are big about our "freedoms" here in America. It's what every right winger I know claims we are doing by sending soldiers to kill and be killed to Iraq and Afghanistan. Defending our freedoms," he writes. "If we, as a country refuse the Uighurs their day in Court, we have lost that freedom guaranteed under our Constitution. It's just a worthless promise on a piece of paper to paraphrase former President Bush."
This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.