In papers filed with the Supreme Court late Friday, the administration says a group of Uighurs are being lawfully held at the U.S. Navy base in Cuba even though they are not considered enemy combatants.
The administration says a federal appeals court ruling that blocked the Uighurs' release in the United States should be upheld. The government is trying to find another country to take them.
The Uighurs' "continued presence at Guantanamo Bay is not unlawful detention, but rather the consequence of their lawful exclusion from the United States," Solicitor General Elena Kagan told the court.
The men are held apart from the other detainees, in the least restrictive conditions, Kagan said. "They are free to leave Guantanamo Bay to go to any country that is willing to accept them," she said.
The court could decide by late June whether to hear the Uighurs' case.
A federal judge determined in October that the Uighurs should be freed because the Pentagon no longer considered them enemy combatants. U.S. District Judge Ricardo M. Urbina said they should be allowed into this country because the administration could find no other country willing to accept them.
The Bush administration appealed Urbina's decision and the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit said Urbina had gone too far in ordering the men released into the United States.
The three-judge appeals panel suggested the detainees might be able to seek entry by applying to the Homeland Security Department, which administers U.S. immigration laws. But the court bluntly concluded that the detainees otherwise had no constitutional right to immediate freedom after being held in custody at Guantanamo without charges for seven years.
The Uighurs argue that last year's Supreme Court ruling that granted Guantanamo detainees the right to go to federal court to seek their freedom is meaningless if they can continue to be held.
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.
Albania accepted five Uighur detainees in 2006 but since has balked at taking others, partly for fear of diplomatic repercussions from China.