The court will decide whether US courts have the authority and jurisdiction to consider appeals made by a group of detainees from the Afghan war being held at the camp.

The justices said in a written order they would decide whether US "courts lack jurisdiction to consider challenges to the legality of the detention of foreign nationals captured abroad in connection with hostilities and incarcerated at the Guantanamo Bay Naval Base, Cuba."

The order is significant since the Bush administration had always argued that US courts had no jurisdiction since the detainees were neither US citizens nor were they being held on US soil.

Deprived detainees

The bizarre argument had deprived the detainees of legal recourse, despite being detained by the Americans in a US-run camp. 

The highest court will hear an hour of arguments in March, with a ruling due by July that could determine the judiciary's role in reviewing the Bush-administration's actions in the war on terror.

The court agreed to hear appeals by two British, two Australian and 12 Kuwaiti nationals, held among the 660 detainees from more than 40 countries in the high-security camp.

Decision welcomed

The Supreme Court's decision to hear the appeals has been welcomed by human rights groups.

"We hope that the Supreme Court will bring an end to the legal black hole into which the Guantanamo detainees have been thrown and ensure justice for them and their families"

Amnesty International

With detainees being held without charges since as early as January 2002, civil rights organisations view the Guantanamo Bay as a scandal.

"The treatment of the Guantanamo detainees is a human rights scandal which violates international law and damages US claims to uphold the rule of law," Amnesty International said in a statement.

"We hope that the Supreme Court will bring an end to the legal black hole into which the Guantanamo detainees have been thrown and ensure justice for them and their families," it said.

"The United States has created a prison on Guantanamo Bay that operates entirely outside the law," lawyers for the detainees have argued.