The bizarre saga of the Uyghurs, wrongfully imprisoned at the controversial Guantanamo Bay detention camp for more than seven years, goes before the U.S. courts again today.

In a hearing with potential implications for the four prisoners now living in Bermuda, the U.S. Supreme court will decide if it is prepared to review the case.

At issue is whether the district courts were wrong to overturn a federal judge's order that 17 Uyghurs, including the Bermuda four, should be released into the U.S..

In a landmark ruling in October last year, Judge Ricardo Urbina declared the continued detention of the men at the terror camp to be 'unlawful' and ordered their immediate release into the U.S..

Judge Urbina ridiculed the evidence against the Uyghurs and noted that the Bush administration had not charged them with any crime.

He said the justice department had offered no evidence to justify their detention and then stymied their release by classifying them, erroneously, as 'enemy combatants'.

The Uyghurs were captured in Pakistan after fleeing the Afghan mountains in the wake of U.S. raids that followed the September 11 terrorist attacks.

They were transferred to Guantanamo in June 2002. A series of military tribunals concluded that they had no agenda against the U.S. and cleared them for release.

Unable to return to China for fear of persecution, and with no country prepared to offer them asylum, they were trapped in a legal limbo.

Judge Urbina described their situation as Kafkaesque - a pointed reference to the surreal novel 'The Trial' by Czech author Franz Kafka. The novel tells the story of a man arrested and prosecuted by a remote, inaccessible authority, with the nature of his crime never revealed either to him or the reader.

Urbina's ruling appeared to have brought the Uyghurs' nightmare to an end.

But in another legal twist his decision was blocked on appeal.

The U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit decided the courts don't have the authority to order the transfer of foreigners into the U.S.; only Congress and the executive branch do. Explaining the ruling, Judge A. Raymond Randolph appeared to accept that the men had been wrongfully imprisoned.

'Cowardly ruling'

"An undercurrent of petitioners' arguments is that they deserve to be released into this country after all they have endured at (the) hands of the United States," Randolph wrote.

"But such sentiments, however high-minded, do not represent a legal basis for upsetting settled law and overriding the prerogatives of the political branches."

The Uyghurs lawyer, Sabin Willett, described the decision at the time as an 'astonishingly cowardly ruling' and appealed to the Supreme Court.

He made a direct plea to the new president to intervene.

"You cannot duck this, President Obama," Mr. Willett said. "Are you for capturing people and hauling them around the globe and holding them in a prison forever without reason? Or are you against it? Which is it?"

The Supreme Court is due to meet today to decide if it will review the decision.

The justices must decide whether the courts rather than the executive branch have the authority to order the release into the U.S. of Guantánamo prisoners who were unlawfully detained by the U.S. and cannot be sent back to their homeland.

Though the Bermuda four were involved in the original case, they have subsequently been resettled here and their lawyer says the hearing will not affect them.

"The court will consider on Friday whether to hear the case," Mr. Willett told us.  "If they decided to hear the case, they would order briefing this fall and argument late this fall or in the New Year. There almost certainly would be no ruling until 2010.  

"Such a ruling could reverse the lower court ruling, and rule in our favour, which would mean any remaining petitioners might be freed into the U.S.  Or they might affirm, in which case the lower court ruling would stand.

"Their ultimate decision would have no impact on the Bermuda Four. Since they have been transfered to Bermuda, the case is moot as to them. So it will not result in their having the right to come to the U.S."

However, some legal experts believe that any decision to release the remaining Uyghurs from Guantanamo into the U.S. would establish a legal precedent that could allow the Bermuda four to live in the U.S. in the future.

The quartet told us they don't want to live in the U.S.. But, with Britain still to make a decision on their status in Bermuda their situation here is fluid.

And the Supreme Court ruling could give them a 'plan B' if the Bermuda resettlement plan hits roadblocks further down the line.