Rather than allow the government to continue to hold them indefinitely at Guantánamo, US District Judge Ricardo Urbina ordered the men freed and brought to the US pending any resettlement.
The government had "subverted" diplomatic efforts to relocate the Uighurs, he said, and had engaged in "manipulation" to keep the 17 men behind bars even after they'd been ordered released.
The men have been held at Guantánamo for nearly seven years despite a lack of evidence of any involvement in terrorism. They were sold to the US military by bounty hunters, and Judge Urbina concluded they are not dangerous.
"The Uighurs are not a terrorist organization. They pose no threat to the US government. The US government agrees with that," says New York lawyer Howard Schiffman, who filed a friend of the court brief on behalf of the Uyghur American Association, a Washington-based advocacy group.
At the heart of the case is a clash between the power of a federal judge to order a meaningful remedy – freedom – and the power of the government's political branches to undercut a judicial order by enforcing policies that conflict with that order.
The case highlights the rising influence of federal judges in counterterrorism policy since June, when the US Supreme Court gave Guantánamo detainees a right to challenge the legality of their detentions.
The case also arises at time when the new administration of Barack Obama is preparing to take office in late January. The president-elect has said he wants to close Guantánamo, and some analysts are hopeful that his administration will adopt a more sympathetic approach to the Uighurs' plight.