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High Court to Consider Uighurs' Plea for Freedom

Mark Sherman

File photo shows Chinese Uighur Guantanamo detainees, who are cleared for release but with no country to go to at the Camp Iguana detention facility. The US administration told Congress it plans to transfer eight Chinese Muslims held at Guantanamo to Palau (AFP/Pool/File/Brennan Linsley)

WASHINGTON - The Supreme Court said Tuesday it will hear a new case about the rights of Guantanamo detainees, this time involving prisoners who remain in custody even after the Pentagon determines they're not a threat to the United States.

The high court said it will take a challenge from Chinese Muslims at the U.S. naval base in Cuba who no longer are classified as enemy combatants. Last year, the court said in a 5-4 ruling that federal judges could ultimately order some detainees to be released, depending on security concerns and other circumstances.

But a federal appeals court overturned a judge's order to do just that in the case of the Chinese Muslims, or Uighurs, saying judges lacked authority to order detainees released into the United States.

The Obama administration urged the court to stay out of the case, noting that diplomatic efforts to find a place for the Uighurs are ongoing.

Even since the administration's court filing, four Uighurs have been sent to Bermuda, while six have accepted an invitation to move to Palau. The Pacific nation has offered to take six of the seven other Uighurs at Guantanamo.

The administration has indicated that some departures for Palau are imminent.

One Uighur, Arkin Mahmud, has nowhere to go, his lawyer told the court.

"No nation has offered him refuge," the lawyer, Sabin Willett, wrote the court.

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.

Uighurs are from Xinjiang, an isolated region that borders Afghanistan, Pakistan and six Central Asian nations. They are Turkic-speaking Muslims who say they have long been repressed by the Chinese government. China has said that insurgents are leading an Islamic separatist movement in Xinjiang. The Uighur detainees were captured in Pakistan and Afghanistan in 2001.

The case is Kiyemba v. Obama, 08-1234.

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