In a deeply disappointing ruling yesterday, the D.C. Circuit reversed Judge Ricardo Urbina’s October 2008 decision ordering the U.S. government to release the 17 Uighers imprisoned at Guantanamo into the United States. But the ruling does not preclude the possibility of resettling the Uighers on U.S soil. It simply underscores the urgent need for President Obama to act quickly to do it himself.

The Uighers, an ethnic group native to China, were captured in Pakistan in late 2001. They have been held without charge in Guantanamo for nearly seven years despite the government’s inability to put forth any evidence of their involvement with al Qaeda or the Taliban or of any conduct suggesting ill will toward the United States. The Uighers do not pose a security threat to the United States; in fact, even the Bush administration acknowledged they are “no longer” enemy combatants.

The Convention against Torture prohibits sending the Uighurs back to China where they are at risk of arrest, torture, or even execution. Diplomatic efforts to resettle the Uighers in a third country have been unsuccessful. And the Bush administration refused to grant them entry to the United States.

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The Circuit Court concluded that “it is not within the province of any court, unless expressly authorized by law, to review the determination of the political branch of the government to exclude a given alien. With respect to these seventeen petitioners, the Executive Branch has determined not to allow them to enter the United States.”

The Court’s ruling takes the wind out of the Supreme Court’s June 2008 decision in Boumediene v. Bush, granting Guantanamo prisoners the right to habeas corpus. Absent a court’s power to order prisoners released into the United States, the prisoners’ right to challenge their detention in a court of law is meaningless. Acknowledging that detentions are illegal is utterly insufficient. Justice requires the complementary power to release.

President Obama is unlikely to succeed in closing Guantanamo without the cooperation of other countries. And that cooperation depends in part on a demonstrated willingness to reject Bush administration policies regarding Guantanamo and chart a new course. The president’s January 2009 executive orders were a first step toward signaling this change. Resettling the Uighers in the United States would send another important message and increase the likelihood that other countries will accept some Guantanamo prisoners themselves.