Abetting the unfairness of the U.S. treatment of inmates at the Guantanamo Bay detention center, a federal appeals court has ruled that the government may continue to imprison 17 Chinese Muslims even though it no longer considers them enemy combatants. Fortunately, the Obama administration has the authority to cut through the legal knot created by the decision and release the prisoners and allow them to be resettled in the United States
The detainees are Uighurs, a minority of Turkic origin living in western China. They were taken to Guantanamo in 2002 after being captured in Pakistan, where they had relocated after receiving firearms training in Afghanistan related, they said, to their resistance to Chinese oppression. Once it was clear that their continued imprisonment was unnecessary, the Bush administration tried to persuade some nation other than China -- where they might have faced persecution -- to accept them, but that task was complicated by the reluctance of several countries to alienate Beijing. Meanwhile, the Uighurs languish in what passes for luxury accommodations at Guantanamo.
A federal judge ruled in October that, given the government's failure to relocate them, the Uighurs must be released and allowed to remain in the United States. The government appealed the decision to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit, and last week the court decided that the judiciary couldn't approve the release because immigration decisions are the preserve of Congress and the president. Sympathy for the Uighurs' long confinement, Senior Judge Arthur Raymond Randolph wrote for the three-judge panel, isn't "a legal basis for upsetting settled law and overriding the prerogatives of the political branches."