At a Glance
The U.S. Supreme Court refused to hear the case on April 18, 2011.
17 innocent Uighur men
Kiyemba v. Obama is a habeas corpus petition filed in the D.C. District Court on behalf of 17 innocent Uighur men who had been imprisoned in Guantánamo Bay for almost seven years at the time of filing. The government acknowledged as early as 2003 that the imprisoned Uighurs were improperly detained and eligible for release. They remained imprisoned because a transfer to China would have been illegal as they would have been at grave risk of torture or other forms of persecution, and the U.S. government both refused to accept the men into the U.S. and was, at the time of filing, unwilling or unable to find other countries willing to accept them.
The United States government imprisoned nearly 800 men at Guantánamo Bay. Many of these men were imprisoned because, in the chaos of war, they were turned over to the U.S. military in response to promises of large bounties. These men included 17 Uighurs.
Uighurs are an ethnic minority population that has historically been discriminated against by the Chinese government. To escape persecution, many Uighurs have fled China seeking refuge in other countries. The Uighurs held in Guantánamo fled China and resettled in small villages in Afghanistan, where they lived peacefully until the outbreak of war in 2002 when their villages were bombed and they were forced to flee their homes once again. Escaping to Pakistan, they were arrested by Pakistani authorities crossing the border.
Following the Supreme Court’s decision in Rasul v. Bush in 2004, which first recognized that Guantánamo detainees had the right to an attorney and the right to file a habeas corpus petition to contest their imprisonment, CCR and pro bono attorneys from Bingham McCutchen LLP, Kramer Levin Naftalis & Frankel LLP, and Miller & Chevalier, as well as private attorney Elizabeth P. Gilson filed habeas corpus petitions on behalf of all of the Uighurs at Guantánamo.
As early as 2003, U.S. government officials recognized that the Uighurs at Guantánamo had been wrongly detained and should be released. In 2004, 5 of the original 22 Uighurs were officially declared non-enemy combatants and were subsequently transferred in 2006 to Albania, the only country willing to take them in and grant them refugee status. In 2006, the remaining 17 continued to languish in Guantánamo, often held in harsh conditions and solitary confinement, and despite having virtually identical facts to those released and now living as recognized refugees. Unable to return to China, but with no country willing to offer them refuge, these innocent men remained stranded.