At a Glance
The US 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 have been imprisoned in Guantánamo Bay for almost seven years. The government acknowledged as early as 2003 that the imprisoned Uighurs were improperly detained and eligible for release. They remain imprisoned because a transfer to China would be illegal as they would be at grave risk of torture or other forms of persecution; and the US government has both refused to accept the men into the US and been unwilling or unable to find other countries willing to accept them.
The United States government has imprisoned nearly 800 men in Guantánamo Bay between 2002 and today. Many of these men were imprisoned because, in the chaos of war, they were turned over to the US military in response to the promises of rich bounties. These men included 17 Uighur men who remain imprisoned today.
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 and many were sold to the U.S. military for a sizable bounty.
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 in Guantánamo Bay.
As early as 2003, US government officials recognized that the Uighurs at Guantánamo had been wrongly detained and should be released. In 2004, five 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 continue to languish in Guantánamo, often held in harsh conditions and solitary confinement, and despite 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 remain stranded in Guantánamo Bay.
On June 12, 2008 the US Supreme Court decided the case of Boumediene v. Bush recognizing that Guantánamo prisoners have a constitutional right to challenge their detention through habeas corpus in U.S. federal courts, and that Congress’ attempt to strip them of that right and create an inadequate substitute for habeas was unconstitutional.
Soon thereafter, on June 20, 2008, the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled in Parhat v. Gates, that the Combatant Status Review Tribunal (CSRT) decision that designated Houzaifa Parhat, one of the 17 Uighurs, as an “enemy combatant” was not valid, and rebuked the evidence presented by the government as insufficient, unreliable and based on attenuated guilt-by-association reasoning. The Circuit Court ordered the government to “release Parhat, to transfer him, or to expeditiously convene a new Combatant Status Review Tribunal to consider evidence submitted in a manner consistent with” the court’s opinion.”
The Circuit Court also directed that Parhat could pursue a habeas corpus proceeding in the district court “immediately, without waiting to learn whether the government will convene another CSRT…[and] in that proceeding there is no question but that the court will have the power to order him released.”
The status determinations of the remaining Uighurs relied on the same assertions and reasoning as that of Parhat. Thus, the U.S. government conceded that the D.C. Circuit’s decision in Parhat would apply equally to the remaining Uighurs, that none would be subjected to new CSRTs, and that all would be treated as non-enemy combatants. The government effectively conceded that all were improperly detained, but nevertheless continued to challenge the jurisdiction of the U.S. federal courts to order their release into the United States.
Attorneys for the Uighurs subsequently filed a motion for their immediate release into the United States, or conversely for parole into the United States pending the conclusion of their habeas petitions.
On October 7, 2008, the Honorable Ricardo Urbina, a federal Judge in the D.C. District Court responsible for the Kiyemba habeas petition, ordered that all 17 men be released into the United States by Friday, October 10. After nearly seven years of litigation and imprisonment, Judge Urbina’s order was the first time that a district court judge had ordered Guantánamo prisoners released from prison on a habeas corpus petition. The government immediately requested a stay of the decision and appealed the case to the DC Circuit Court. On February 18, 2009, the DC Circuit Court reversed the lower courts decision, effectively prolonging the unlawful detention of the Uighurs. On April 3, 2009, the Uighurs submitted a Petition for Writ of Certiorari to the US Supreme Court, asking them to hear their case. The case is now pending before the US Supreme Court.