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Americas

US court: Executive has sole authority over detainees destination

Latest update : 2009-04-08

A US federal appeals court has ruled against a group of Chinese Muslims held at Guantanamo Bay and who sought a judicial review of their fate. The court said the US government has the sole authority to decide where to send them.

REUTERS - A federal appeals court ruled on Tuesday against a group of Chinese Muslims who have been held for years at the U.S. military prison at Guantanamo Bay in Cuba and had sought judicial review of their fate.

The executive branch of the U.S. government has the sole authority to decide where to send the detainees, the court said. The appeals panel in Washington ruled by a 2-1 vote that judges may not second-guess those decisions.

The court also said judges cannot bar their transfer to a country where they fear they may be tortured or detained.

The U.S. government has vowed not to send detainees to a country that likely will torture them but the detainees had still sought legal review of such decisions.

The appeals court also held that federal judges who have been hearing the cases of Guantanamo prisoners seeking their freedom may not bar the U.S. government from sending them to another country because it may prosecute or detain them under its own laws.

In one of his first acts in office in January, President Barack Obama ordered the closing within a year of the Guantanamo prison camp, which now holds about 240 detainees.

Many have been held for seven years without charges and some were subjected to interrogation techniques denounced by critics as torture.

The Obama administration is reviewing what to do with the detainees, who were picked up as foreign terrorism suspects after the Sept. 11 attacks in 2001.

The case before the appeals court involved nine members of the Uighur ethnic group. They are part of a group of 17 Uighurs who have been cleared for release but still remain at Guantanamo while the United States tries to find a country willing to take them.

The U.S. government has said it cannot return them to China because they would face persecution there. Attorney General Eric Holder said last month the Uighurs could be freed in the United States.

In Tuesday's ruling, the appeals court overturned a federal judge's order that required the U.S. government to give 30 days notice before transferring the Uighurs from Guantanamo. The Uighurs fear they could be sent to a country where they might be tortured or be further detained.

The same appeals court in February overturned a judge's ruling that the Uighurs must be freed in the United States.

It said a federal judge did not have the authority to order the U.S. government to bring them to the United States for their release. It said only the executive branch, and not the courts, could make such immigration decisions.

Attorneys for the Uighurs on Monday appealed that ruling to the U.S. Supreme Court. The court is not expected to act on that case for at least several months.

One attorney, Emi MacLean of the Center for Constitutional Rights, said, "This is now President Obama's Guantanamo. If he is truly committed to closing the detention center, these men should be on a plane to restart their lives in the United States."
 

Date created : 2009-04-08

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