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DC Circuit refuses evidentiary hearing for Uighur detainees

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[JURIST] The US Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit [official website] on Friday refused to order a new evidentiary hearing [opinion, PDF] in the case of five Chinese Muslim Uighurs detained at Guantanamo Bay [JURIST news archives]. Instead, in a per curiam decision, the court reinstated its original opinion, which gives political branches exclusive power in determining the release of non-citizens being held by the federal government. In April, the Supreme Court ordered the circuit court to reconsider [JURIST report] Kiyemba v. Obama [docket; CCR backgrounder] in light of the fact that each of the remaining Uighurs has received an offer of resettlement by another country. In response, the circuit court denied the petitioners’ request to remand the case to the district court [JURIST report] for an evidentiary hearing on whether any of the resettlement offers were “appropriate,” holding that it was in the power of the political branches to determine whether a country is appropriate for resettlement. The court further explained that even if the detainees had good reason to reject the resettlement offers, they still possessed no right to be released into the US:

In seven separate enactments – five of which remain in force today – Congress has prohibited the expenditure of any funds to bring any Guantanamo detainee to the United States. Petitioners say these statutes, which clearly apply to them, violate the Suspension Clause of the Constitution. But the statutes suspend nothing: petitioners never had a constitutional right to be brought to this country and released. Petitioners also argue that the new statutes are unlawful bills of attainder. The statutory restrictions, which apply to all Guantanamo detainees, are not legislative punishments; they deprive petitioners of no right they already possessed.

The Constitution Project [advocacy website], a bipartisan think tank focusing on constitutional issues, immediately denounced the judgment [press release]. The group criticized the court’s ruling for being too broad on the issue of the judiciary’s role the release of detainees. Authoring a separate concurring opinion, Circuit Judge Judith Rogers, agreed with the Constitution Project’s assertion that the ruling was too broad, but held that there was no role for the judiciary in this case because the five Uighurs “hold the keys to their release from Guantanamo. All they must do is register their consent” to the proposed resettlement offers.

The DC circuit court’s ruling came in a case informally referred to as Kiyemba I, which is separate from a different suit filed by the Uighur detainees, known as Kiyemba II. In March, the Supreme Court declined to rule [JURIST report] in Kiyemba II, on certain issues surrounding the transfer of Guantanamo Bay detainees. Lawyers for four Uighurs detained at Guantanamo were appealing [JURIST report] an April 2009 ruling [opinion, PDF; JURIST report] by the DC circuit court, which held that US courts cannot prevent the government from transferring Guantanamo detainees to foreign countries on the grounds that detainees may face prosecution or torture in the foreign country. Of the 22 Uighurs originally detained at Guantanamo Bay, 17 have accepted offers of relocation to other countries. Two Uighurs were transferred to Switzerland, six to Palau, four to Bermuda and five to Albania [JURIST reports].