Constitution Project Disappointed by D.C. Circuit Ruling in Uighurs Case

President Should Act Now to Release the Uighurs

For Immediate Release: February 18, 2009
Contact: Daniel Schuman, 202-580-6922,

Washington, D.C. – Today, a three-judge panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit released an opinion, in Kiyemba v. Obama, overturning District Court Judge Ricardo M. Urbina’s order to release seventeen Chinese Muslims, known as Uighurs, currently detained at Guantanamo Bay. The district court had found that there is no legal basis for the executive branch to detain the Uighurs and ordered that they be released into the United States, prompting a government appeal.

The following may be attributed to Sharon Bradford Franklin, Senior Policy Counsel at the Constitution Project:

“We are disappointed by today’s D.C. Circuit ruling that denies freedom to the 17 men whom the government admits are not ‘enemy combatants’ and yet continues to hold at Guantanamo for a seventh year.

President Obama should exercise his power to release the Uighurs into the U.S. The appellate court’s ruling that the trial court lacked the power to compel the Executive branch to release the Uighurs into the United States in no way limits the ability of the Executive branch to release the Uighurs on its own. We therefore call on President Obama to choose the right course and evaluate the terms under which the Uighurs may be released into the United States.

The writ of habeas corpus is a fundamental constitutional right. For habeas corpus to have meaning, it must permit a court to end wrongful detentions. We regret that today’s decision failed to recognize the court’s ability to check arbitrary detention, such as that suffered by the Uighurs.”

Senior Circuit Judge Raymond Randolph and Circuit Judge Karen Henderson found that a habeas court cannot order an alien held by the U.S. government at Guantanamo Bay be released into the U.S. without specific authorizing legislation. Circuit Judge Judith Rogers disagreed, arguing that majority’s opinion would compromise the writ of habeas corpus’ role as a check on arbitrary detention, but concurred that the case should be remanded for argument over whether the Executive branch has a valid alternative basis for detention.

Lawyers for the government and the Uighurs agreed that they cannot be returned to China due to the risk that they would be tortured.

In November, the Constitution Project filed a friend-of-the-court brief urging the D.C. Circuit to uphold the district court’s release order, along with the Brennan Center for Justice, the Rutherford Institute, and the National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers.

Also in November, in an effort coordinated by the Constitution Project, ten prominent conservatives called upon the Administration to release the Uighurs.

To speak with an expert, please contact Daniel Schuman, Director of Communications and Counsel, the Constitution Project, at 202-580-6922.

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