February 18th, 2009
11:50 AM ET
9 years ago

Court says Guantanamo prisoners cannot be released in U.S.

A federal appeals court ruled Wednesday that 17 detainees at the U.S. facility in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba cannot be transferred or released into United States.

A federal appeals court ruled Wednesday that 17 detainees at the U.S. facility in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba cannot be transferred or released into United States.

WASHINGTON (CNN) - A federal appeals court panel ruled Wednesday that 17 native Chinese Muslims cannot be transferred and released into the United States from American military custody at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.

The three-judge panel concluded by a 2-1 vote there is no legal or constitutional authority for the prisoners to be immediately freed even though they are unlawfully detained, and no countries currently are willing to accept them.

The 17 men are Uighurs, an ethnic group from western China. They are accused of receiving weapons and military training in Afghanistan. Some of the prisoners have been cleared for release since 2003, but the United States will not send them back to their homeland because of concern they would be tortured by Chinese authorities.

The Chinese government has said no returned Uighurs would be tortured.

"We do not know whether all petitioners or any of them would qualify for entry or admission [to the United States] under immigration laws," wrote Judge Raymond Randolph. "We do know there is insufficient evidence to classify them as enemy combatants - enemies that is of the United States. But that hardly qualifies petitioners [the Uighurs] for admission. Nor does their detention at Guantanamo for many years entitle them to enter the United States."

U.S. District Judge Richard Urbina in October ordered the Uighurs released inside the United States since they are no longer considered "enemy combatants." He said further imprisonment "crossed the constitutional threshold into infinitum."

The Bush administration appealed, seeking a quick hearing to block any release, at least temporarily.

Lawyers for the prisoners now have the option of appealing directly to the Supreme Court, but the justices may not take up the matter for months.

Complicating matters in the years-long legal fight is that President Barack Obama has announced plans to close the military prison in Guantanamo.

In the ruling, Randolph noted, "The government has represented that it is continuing diplomatic attempts to find an appropriate country willing to admit
petitioners, and we have no reason to doubt it is doing so. Nor do we have the
power to require anything more."

Judge Judith Rogers agreed with the majority that it would be premature to release the prisoners into the United States before their immigration status
is resolved. But she dissent from the majority opinion, saying if it were later
determined their detention was illegal, the courts "would have the power to
order them conditionally released into the country."

She expressed concern the men have been behind bars for years, and said their detention "appears indefinite."

About 250 prisoners, many of them suspected terrorists, remain in the prison. Approximately two-thirds have appealed their continued imprisonment
and have complained the government is unfairly keeping them from finding out if any evidence exists that could clear them of wrongdoing.

Many fear arrest, physical abuse or persecution if they are sent to their homelands, according the Center for Constitutional Rights, which is representing the Uighurs in court. It said the men pose no terror threat and could be released into the United States and stay with a local Muslim community until their cases were resolved.

Among the lead Uighur plaintiffs is Hazaifa Parhat, accused of attending a terror training camp in Afghanistan at the time of the September 11, 2001, attacks. He denies the charge.

Urbina and Judge Richard Leon, who are handling appeals from Guantanamo prisoners, have grown frustrated in recent months with the continued
detention of some of the men. Leon ordered the release last week of five Algerians accused of being enemy combatants, and urged the government not to

U.S. military hearings known as combatant status review tribunals determine whether a prisoner can be designated an "enemy combatant," and prosecuted by the military. Some legal and military analysts have likened them to civilian grand jury proceedings.

The appeals court case is Kiyemba v. Obama (08-5424).

Filed under: Guantanamo Bay
soundoff (62 Responses)
  1. bsmith171

    move them to the WHITE HOUSE it is not a state.

    February 18, 2009 12:46 pm at 12:46 pm |
  2. Pamela

    I think all the detainees should be taken to Crawford Texas and released at the Bush ranch!

    February 18, 2009 12:51 pm at 12:51 pm |
  3. Dutch/Hampton Roads, VA

    Those detainees better not get released in the U.S. They'll be safer in Cuba. If thet get realeased into our society and Americans know who they are, they're just as good as dead. send them back to china and let then deal with them.

    February 18, 2009 12:53 pm at 12:53 pm |
  4. Art

    As well they shouldn't!

    February 18, 2009 12:56 pm at 12:56 pm |
  5. Gary

    Thank god! Look, I'm not sure what to do with these guys but releasing them in the US is the worst option. Maybe releasing them at all is a problem. Both Bin Laden and Al Zawarhi were in custody at one time (Yemen and Egypt) and if they hadn't been released there may not have been a 9/11....If we release any of these turkeys and they come back and do an awful attack (against us or against anyone innocent) then we would feel really bad. Honestly, I would give them tribunals and if guilty leave them in Guantanamo for life. I would even consider moving some of our most violent domestic criminals to Guantanamo, it could be the 21st century alcatraz.

    February 18, 2009 12:56 pm at 12:56 pm |
  6. Joshua College Station Texas

    When we take prisoners, we become responsible for them, part and parcel. Why can we not accept that? If we then cannot charge them with a crime, then we are violating our own Constitution. They must be charged, tried, and then either imprisoned or released. If they can't be released here, they must be released in their country of origin. If they are to be held until the end of the so called "War on Terror", then that war must be defined in scope and length. If it is not definable, then it must be abolished as a metric. All men have rights, whether they are white, brown, black or any other color; Christian, Muslim, or any other religion; man, woman, or child; American, or non-American. Our Constitution is for everyone we take responsibility for, including our prisoners!

    February 18, 2009 12:59 pm at 12:59 pm |
  7. Patriot Guy

    Uh oh. The Democrats are not going to be able to count on their votes and support after all. I'm sure the DNC will appeal.

    February 18, 2009 01:01 pm at 1:01 pm |
  8. Hill the jobseller

    Send them to Alabama,where they can start a car company.

    February 18, 2009 01:01 pm at 1:01 pm |
  9. Hill the jobseller

    Send them to Alabama,where they can start a car company.

    February 18, 2009 01:01 pm at 1:01 pm |
  10. S.B. Stein E.B. NJ

    This group is not part of the problem. If there is a group that they can belong to and accept them, then let that group be responsible for them. Attach locator bracelets or other tracking devices for the first 10 years. If there are no problems, then start them on the road to permanant resident status. They should allowed here provisionally as political refugees since China will torture them. I have no doubt of that.

    February 18, 2009 01:07 pm at 1:07 pm |
  11. Observant

    I think that the US should accept China's government word that they would not be tortured and send them back home. The USA can not police or protect everyone, besides China can not be all bad, afterall they are our biggest trade partner. Send them back to China.

    February 18, 2009 01:08 pm at 1:08 pm |
  12. Once you vote Black

    Wow, what will become of them? They are not enemy, they cannot go home, they cannot come here. We either have to keep them in Jail for nothing for the rest of their lives, or get rid of them. This is the mess Bush has left us with because of his dragnet tactics. Last, I wonder how much we paid out to collect them and to whom the money went to.

    February 18, 2009 01:08 pm at 1:08 pm |
  13. worriedmom

    The Libs will be screaming about this but hey why not send them to live with the Libs. they don't view them as terrorists, they are just misunderstood.

    February 18, 2009 01:14 pm at 1:14 pm |
  14. John

    Let's give them to Fidel, and his lover Hugo Chavez. I can see them all in bright red pajamas picking bananas, and coconuts.

    February 18, 2009 01:19 pm at 1:19 pm |
  15. Obama Victim

    huge defeat for The Messiah


    February 18, 2009 01:20 pm at 1:20 pm |
  16. pete

    Oh my, what will Obama do? The White House is a big place, let Obama take them in.

    February 18, 2009 01:29 pm at 1:29 pm |
  17. he is NOT the chosen one after all

    send then to Chicago, they'll fit right in.

    February 18, 2009 01:35 pm at 1:35 pm |
  18. Marc

    worriedmom, if you had bothered to READ the article you'll know that
    after all those years of imprisoning, there is very little evidence against them, and even that is not enough even to consider them enemies of the US.
    So why should they stay behind bars?
    Because they are better behind bars in Guantanamo than back to China... but, of course, they wish to be free and since there are NO CRIMINAL CHARGES against them they have such right.

    February 18, 2009 01:40 pm at 1:40 pm |

    Well imagine that, just one more thing that the great one himself said was going to happen but is not possible. How in the world can people not see what is going on. Just like he said that this package will help give those people back some jobs and then the guy says there will be more people laid off, come on get real. This president just keeps making mistakes, he is incompetent and ignorant. There's a freaking surprise.

    February 18, 2009 01:40 pm at 1:40 pm |
  20. Tom Eyemdaman

    The US has evidence that these guys received terror training, but not enough to convict, so suddenly they should be released in the US? Yah, real smart there.

    The Chinese government would probably torture these guys – but what can you do?

    February 18, 2009 01:41 pm at 1:41 pm |
  21. raagos




    February 18, 2009 01:41 pm at 1:41 pm |
  22. Bob From Pittsburgh

    Thet were wrong by the Americans, and now americans do not take responsibilty for their actions..

    February 18, 2009 01:42 pm at 1:42 pm |
  23. Jerry D.

    Send them back and let the Chinese people figure out what should be done.

    February 18, 2009 01:45 pm at 1:45 pm |
  24. elsie

    I find it laughable that US judges are worried about OTHER countries practicing torture. What hypocrites.

    February 18, 2009 01:51 pm at 1:51 pm |
  25. Dieter Zerressen, Denver, CO

    Send them to Crawford, Texas or maybe Kennebunkport (but I like Maine). OK, Texas then!

    February 18, 2009 01:51 pm at 1:51 pm |
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