WASHINGTON — The Supreme Court on Monday turned down a long-shot appeal filed on behalf of two Chinese Muslims held at Guantanamo Bay while the U.S. government tries to find a country to take them.
The men's plight has posed a dilemma for courts and a public relations problem for the Bush administration.
A federal judge said the detention of the ethnic Uighurs at the military prison in Cuba was unlawful but there was nothing courts could do. Without comment, the justices declined to consider an unusual direct appeal of that decision.
The military agrees that Abu Bakker Qassim and A'Del Abdu Al-Hakim should be freed after more than four years in U.S. custody. But with concerns they would be persecuted in China, where should they be sent?
"We don't want to put them on a boat and shove them offshore," said Robert Turner, a former high-level State Department official in the Reagan administration who teaches at the University of Virginia. "It's one of those tragic cases ... there are no easy answers. These guys are, in a sense, collateral damage to the war."
The men were captured in 2001 in Pakistan. The next year, the U.S. military shipped them to Guantanamo along with hundreds of other suspected terrorists.
The military decided that the two men and 36 others -- of more than 550 prisoners -- were not "enemy combatants." The standard procedure is to send those people home. But Qassim and Al-Hakim could not be returned to China after last year's vindication because the United States suspects they would be tortured or killed.
Lawyers for the two contend they could be released in the United States. A small number of Uighur refugees live in the Washington area and have offered them jobs and housing.