Uighurs Ask Supreme Court for Freedom

Lawyers for a group of Chinese Muslim prisoners held at Guantanamo Bay are asking the Supreme Court for the release of their 17 clients.

Monday's 49 page filing asks the justices for "immediate intervention" on behalf of the men.

Last year a federal judge ordered the release of the 17 men known as Uighurs. But that ruling was stayed and later overturned by an appeals court. Today's filing seeks to reinstate the original decision.

Lawyers for the men say the appellate court decision must be overturned because "it subordinates judicial authority to relieve unlawful imprisonment to the discretion of the political branches."

The Uighurs represent just one challenge to the Obama Administration's stated desire to close the Guantanamo prison camp by next year.

The Uighurs say they will be tortured if they are returned to China and so far no other country has assumed custody.

In October, Judge Ricardo Urbina decided that after seven years of confinement, the government no longer had legal authority to imprison the men and ordered their immediate release. But in February, D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals Judge A. Raymond Randolph said Judge Urbina exceeded his authority in releasing the men. He wrote that he was unaware of any "statute or treaty" justifying the order.

Judge Randolph also said the Uighurs could not produce a valid Due Process claim because it "does not apply to aliens without property or presence in the sovereign territory of the United States."

Lawyers for the Uighurs take issue with Randolph's analysis. They say even though their clients are not citizens, because they are in United States custody, they deserve to contest their continued detention. "[W]hile these Petitioners are aliens, the question whether it is for the prisoner to justify release or the jailer to justify imprisonment arises from every detention. It would be hard to overstate the importance of the question presented in this case--to the rule of law and to the public. The question is fundamental, and there is every need for this Court’s immediate intervention."

The case is Kiyemba v. Obama.

If the Court decides to hear the case it will likely not be heard until late this year or early 2010.