US court to hear case of 17 Muslims held at Guantanamo Bay

A federal appeals court is considering the fate of 17 Turkic Muslims being held at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, a constitutional showdown over presidential power that could speed efforts to close the military prison. The US Court of Appeals for the DC Circuit was scheduled to hear arguments Monday from the Bush administration and lawyers for the detainees. The case comes as US President-elect Barack Obama is pledging to quickly shut down a US naval facility roundly condemned by the international community and many legal scholars. At issue is whether a federal judge has the authority to order the release of prisoners at Guantanamo who were unlawfully detained by the US and cannot be sent back to their homeland. The Muslims, known as Uighurs, were cleared for release as early as 2003 but fear they will be tortured if they are returned to China. US District Judge Richard Urbina last month ordered the immediate release of the 17 men into the United States, noting that they were no longer considered enemy combatants. He sternly rebuked US President George W. Bush for a detention that "crossed the constitutional threshold into infinitum."