Hamdi v. Rumsfeld
___ u.s. ___ (2004)
Oral arguments may be found at: www.oyez.org/oyez/frontpage
On the question of the validity of Hamdi’s detention:
Vote: 5 (Breyer, Kennedy, O’Connor, Rehnquist, Thomas)
4 (Ginsburg, Scalia, Souter, Stevens)
On the question of the Hamdis’ access to courts and lawyers:
Vote: 8 (Breyer, Ginsburg, Kennedy, O’Connor, Rehnquist, Scalia, Souter, Stevens)
Opinion announcing the judgment of the Court: O’Connor
Opinion concurring in part, dissenting in part, and concurring in judgment: Souter
Dissenting opinions: Scalia, Thomas
One week after the September 11, 2001, al Qaeda terrorist attacks on the United States, Congress passed the Authorization for Use of Military Force (AUMF). This resolution gave President George W. Bush authority to “use all necessary and appropriate force against those nations, organizations, or persons he determines planned, authorized, committed, or aided the terrorist attacks” or “harbored such organizations or persons, in order to prevent any future acts of international terrorism against the United States.” On the basis of this congressional grant of authority, Bush ordered American armed forces to Afghanistan to attack al Qaeda and the Taliban regime that supported it.
During this military effort, Afghan elements supporting the United States captured twenty-year-old Yaser Esam Hamdi and delivered him to U.S. forces. Hamdi was an American citizen by virtue of his birth in Louisiana, but his family had moved to Saudi Arabia when he was a child. After being interrogated in Afghanistan, Hamdi was transferred first to the U.S. naval base at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba, then to military prisons in Norfolk, Virginia, and Charleston, South Carolina. The government claimed that Hamdi was an “enemy combatant,” and as such could be held indefinitely without formal charges, court proceedings, access to counsel, or the freedom to communicate with anyone beyond the prison walls.
In June 2002 Hamdi’s father, Esam Fouad Hamdi, filed a petition for habeas corpus on behalf of his son against Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, claiming the continued detention without formal charges or access to lawyers or the courts violated the younger Hamdi’s constitutional right to due process of law. Hamdi’s father argued that his son was not engaged in military activity but had gone to Afghanistan as a relief worker. The United States countered that Hamdi had received military training in Afghanistan and had joined a Taliban unit prior to his capture in a theater of war. The government’s allegations as to Hamdi’s participation in Taliban activities were submitted in the form of a statement by Michael Mobbs, a Defense Department official. This document, referred to as the Mobbs Declaration, contained little in the way of direct factual evidence.
After a series of hearings at the district and circuit court levels, the Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit ruled in favor of the government’s position, holding that Hamdi could be detained and was only entitled to the limited judicial determination of whether the government had acted properly under its war powers.
justice o’connor announced the judgment of the Court and delivered an opinion, in which the chief justice, justice kennedy, and justice breyer join.
At this difficult time in our Nation’s history, we are called upon to consider the legality of the Government’s detention of a United States citizen on United States soil as an “enemy combatant” and to address the process that is constitutionally owed to one who seeks to challenge his classification as such…. We hold that although Congress authorized the detention of combatants in the narrow circumstances alleged here, due process demands that a citizen held in the United States as an enemy combatant be given a meaningful opportunity to contest the factual basis for that detention before a neutral decisionmaker….
The threshold question before us is whether the Executive has the authority to detain citizens who qualify as “enemy combatants.” There is some debate as to the proper scope of this term, and the Government has never provided any court with the full criteria that it uses in classifying individuals as such. It has made clear, however, that, for purposes of this case, the “enemy combatant” that it is seeking to detain is an individual who, it alleges, was “‘part of or supporting forces hostile to the United States or coalition partners’” in Afghanistan and who “‘engaged in an armed conflict against the United States’” there. We therefore answer only the narrow question before us: whether the detention of citizens falling within that definition is authorized.
The Government maintains that no explicit congressional authorization is required, because the Executive possesses plenary authority to detain pursuant to Article II of the Constitution. We do not reach the question whether Article II provides such authority, however, because we agree with the Government’s alternative position, that Congress has in fact authorized Hamdi’s detention, through the AUMF [the Authorization for Use of Military Force resolution]….
The AUMF authorizes the President to use “all necessary and appropriate force” against “nations, organizations, or persons” associated with the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks. There can be no doubt that individuals who fought against the United States in Afghanistan as part of the Taliban, an organization known to have supported the al Qaeda terrorist network responsible for those attacks, are individuals Congress sought to target in passing the AUMF. We conclude that detention of individuals falling into the limited category we are considering, for the duration of the particular conflict in which they were captured, is so fundamental and accepted an incident to war as to be an exercise of the “necessary and appropriate force” Congress has authorized the President to use.
The capture and detention of lawful combatants and the capture, detention, and trial of unlawful combatants, by “universal agreement and practice,” are “important incident[s] of war.” Ex parte Quirin . The purpose of detention is to prevent captured individuals from returning to the field of battle and taking up arms once again….
There is no bar to this Nation’s holding one of its own citizens as an enemy combatant. In Quirin, one of the detainees, Haupt, alleged that he was a naturalized United States citizen. We held that “[c]itizens who associate themselves with the military arm of the enemy government, and with its aid, guidance and direction enter this country bent on hostile acts, are enemy belligerents within the meaning of … the law of war.” While Haupt was tried for violations of the law of war, nothing in Quirin suggests that his citizenship would have precluded his mere detention for the duration of the relevant hostilities. Nor can we see any reason for drawing such a line here. A citizen, no less than an alien, can be “part of or supporting forces hostile to the United States or coalition partners” and “engaged in an armed conflict against the United States”; such a citizen, if released, would pose the same threat of returning to the front during the ongoing conflict.
In light of these principles, it is of no moment that the AUMF does not use specific language of detention. Because detention to prevent a combatant’s return to the battlefield is a fundamental incident of waging war, in permitting the use of “necessary and appropriate force,” Congress has clearly and unmistakably authorized detention in the narrow circumstances considered here.
Hamdi objects, nevertheless, that Congress has not authorized the indefinite detention to which he is now subject.… As the Government concedes, “given its unconventional nature, the current conflict is unlikely to end with a formal cease-fire agreement.” The prospect Hamdi raises is therefore not far-fetched. If the Government does not consider this unconventional war won for two generations, and if it maintains during that time that Hamdi might, if released, rejoin forces fighting against the United States, then the position it has taken throughout the litigation of this case suggests that Hamdi’s detention could last for the rest of his life.
It is a clearly established principle of the law of war that detention may last no longer than active hostilities.
Hamdi contends that the AUMF does not authorize indefinite or perpetual detention. Certainly, we agree that indefinite detention for the purpose of interrogation is not authorized. Further, we understand Congress’ grant of authority for the use of “necessary and appropriate force” to include the authority to detain for the duration of the relevant conflict, and our understanding is based on longstanding law-of-war principles. If the practical circumstances of a given conflict are entirely unlike those of the conflicts that informed the development of the law of war, that understanding may unravel. But that is not the situation we face as of this date. Active combat operations against Taliban fighters apparently are ongoing in Afghanistan. The United States may detain, for the duration of these hostilities, individuals legitimately determined to be Taliban combatants who “engaged in an armed conflict against the United States.” If the record establishes that United States troops are still involved in active combat in Afghanistan, those detentions are part of the exercise of “necessary and appropriate force,” and therefore are authorized by the AUMF.
Ex parte Milligan (1866), does not undermine our holding about the Government’s authority to seize enemy combatants, as we define that term today. In that case, the Court made repeated reference to the fact that its inquiry into whether the military tribunal had jurisdiction to try and punish Milligan turned in large part on the fact that Milligan was not a prisoner of war, but a resident of Indiana arrested while at home there. That fact was central to its conclusion. Had Milligan been captured while he was assisting Confederate soldiers by carrying a rifle against Union troops on a Confederate battlefield, the holding of the Court might well have been different. The Court’s repeated explanations that Milligan was not a prisoner of war suggest that had these different circumstances been present he could have been detained under military authority for the duration of the conflict, whether or not he was a citizen….
Even in cases in which the detention of enemy combatants is legally authorized, there remains the question of what process is constitutionally due to a citizen who disputes his enemy-combatant status….
Though they reach radically different conclusions on the process that ought to attend the present proceeding, the parties begin on common ground. All agree that, absent suspension, the writ of habeas corpus remains available to every individual detained within the United States. Only in the rarest of circumstances has Congress seen fit to suspend the writ. At all other times, it has remained a critical check on the Executive, ensuring that it does not detain individuals except in accordance with law. All agree suspension of the writ has not occurred here….
… [A]s critical as the Government’s interest may be in detaining those who actually pose an immediate threat to the national security of the United States during ongoing international conflict, history and common sense teach us that an unchecked system of detention carries the potential to become a means for oppression and abuse of others who do not present that sort of threat. See Ex parte Milligan.… We reaffirm today the fundamental nature of a citizen’s right to be free from involuntary confinement by his own government without due process of law, and we weigh the opposing governmental interests against the curtailment of liberty that such confinement entails.
On the other side of the scale are the weighty and sensitive governmental interests in ensuring that those who have in fact fought with the enemy during a war do not return to battle against the United States.… [T]he law of war and the realities of combat may render such detentions both necessary and appropriate, and our due process analysis need not blink at those realities. Without doubt, our Constitution recognizes that core strategic matters of warmaking belong in the hands of those who are best positioned and most politically accountable for making them.
The Government also argues at some length that its interests in reducing the process available to alleged enemy combatants are heightened by the practical difficulties that would accompany a system of trial-like process. In its view, military officers who are engaged in the serious work of waging battle would be unnecessarily and dangerously distracted by litigation half a world away, and discovery into military operations would both intrude on the sensitive secrets of national defense and result in a futile search for evidence buried under the rubble of war. To the extent that these burdens are triggered by heightened procedures, they are properly taken into account in our due process analysis.
Striking the proper constitutional balance here is of great importance to the Nation during this period of ongoing combat. But it is equally vital that our calculus not give short shrift to the values that this country holds dear or to the privilege that is American citizenship. It is during our most challenging and uncertain moments that our Nation’s commitment to due process is most severely tested; and it is in those times that we must preserve our commitment at home to the principles for which we fight abroad….
We therefore hold that a citizen-detainee seeking to challenge his classification as an enemy combatant must receive notice of the factual basis for his classification, and a fair opportunity to rebut the Government’s factual assertions before a neutral decisionmaker. These essential constitutional promises may not be eroded.
At the same time, the exigencies of the circumstances may demand that, aside from these core elements, enemy combatant proceedings may be tailored to alleviate their uncommon potential to burden the Executive at a time of ongoing military conflict. Hearsay, for example, may need to be accepted as the most reliable available evidence from the Government in such a proceeding. Likewise, the Constitution would not be offended by a presumption in favor of the Government’s evidence, so long as that presumption remained a rebuttable one and fair opportunity for rebuttal were provided. Thus, once the Government puts forth credible evidence that the habeas petitioner meets the enemy-combatant criteria, the onus could shift to the petitioner to rebut that evidence with more persuasive evidence that he falls outside the criteria. A burden-shifting scheme of this sort would meet the goal of ensuring that the errant tourist, embedded journalist, or local aid worker has a chance to prove military error while giving due regard to the Executive once it has put forth meaningful support for its conclusion that the detainee is in fact an enemy combatant….
We think it unlikely that this basic process will have the dire impact on the central functions of warmaking that the Government forecasts. The parties agree that initial captures on the battlefield need not receive the process we have discussed here; that process is due only when the determination is made to continue to hold those who have been seized…. While we accord the greatest respect and consideration to the judgments of military authorities in matters relating to the actual prosecution of a war, and recognize that the scope of that discretion necessarily is wide, it does not infringe on the core role of the military for the courts to exercise their own time-honored and constitutionally mandated roles of reviewing and resolving claims like those presented here….
In so holding, we necessarily reject the Government’s assertion that separation of powers principles mandate a heavily circumscribed role for the courts in such circumstances. Indeed, the position that the courts must forgo any examination of the individual case and focus exclusively on the legality of the broader detention scheme cannot be mandated by any reasonable view of separation of powers, as this approach serves only to condense power into a single branch of government. We have long since made clear that a state of war is not a blank check for the President when it comes to the rights of the Nation’s citizens…. Likewise, we have made clear that, unless Congress acts to suspend it, the Great Writ of habeas corpus allows the Judicial Branch to play a necessary role in maintaining this delicate balance of governance, serving as an important judicial check on the Executive’s discretion in the realm of detentions….
… Plainly, the “process” Hamdi has received is not that to which he is entitled under the Due Process Clause.
There remains the possibility that the standards we have articulated could be met by an appropriately authorized and properly constituted military tribunal….
Hamdi asks us to hold that the Fourth Circuit also erred by denying him immediate access to counsel upon his detention and by disposing of the case without permitting him to meet with an attorney. Since our grant of certiorari in this case, Hamdi has been appointed counsel, with whom he has met for consultation purposes on several occasions, and with whom he is now being granted unmonitored meetings. He unquestionably has the right to access to counsel in connection with the proceedings on remand. No further consideration of this issue is necessary at this stage of the case.
The judgment of the United States Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit is vacated, and the case is remanded for further proceedings.
It is so ordered.
justice souter, with whom justice ginsburg joins, concurring in part, dissenting in part, and concurring in the judgment.
… The plurality [accepts] the Government’s position that if Hamdi’s designation as an enemy combatant is correct, his detention (at least as to some period) is authorized by an Act of Congress as required by … the Authorization for Use of Military Force. Here, I disagree and respectfully dissent. The Government has failed to demonstrate that the Force Resolution authorizes the detention complained of here even on the facts the Government claims. If the Government raises nothing further than the record now shows, the Non-Detention Act [prohibiting the detention of citizens except pursuant to an Act of Congress] entitles Hamdi to be released….
… Since the Force Resolution was adopted one week after the attacks of September 11, 2001, it naturally speaks with some generality, but its focus is clear, and that is on the use of military power. It is fairly read to authorize the use of armies and weapons, whether against other armies or individual terrorists. But … it never so much as uses the word detention, and there is no reason to think Congress might have perceived any need to augment Executive power to deal with dangerous citizens within the United States, given the well-stocked statutory arsenal of defined criminal offenses covering the gamut of actions that a citizen sympathetic to terrorists might commit….
Because I find Hamdi’s detention … unauthorized by the Force Resolution, I would not reach any questions of what process he may be due in litigating disputed issues in a proceeding under the habeas statute or prior to the habeas enquiry itself. For me, it suffices that the Government has failed to justify holding him in the absence of a further Act of Congress, criminal charges, [or] a showing that the detention conforms to the laws of war….
Since this disposition does not command a majority of the Court, however, the need to give practical effect to the conclusions of eight members of the Court rejecting the Government’s position calls for me to join with the plurality in ordering remand on terms closest to those I would impose. Although I think litigation of Hamdi’s status as an enemy combatant is unnecessary, the terms of the plurality’s remand will allow Hamdi to offer evidence that he is not an enemy combatant, and he should at the least have the benefit of that opportunity.
It should go without saying that in joining with the plurality to produce a judgment, I do not adopt the plurality’s resolution of constitutional issues that I would not reach. It is not that I could disagree with the plurality’s determinations (given the plurality’s view of the Force Resolution) that someone in Hamdi’s position is entitled at a minimum to notice of the Government’s claimed factual basis for holding him, and to a fair chance to rebut it before a neutral decision maker; nor, of course, could I disagree with the plurality’s affirmation of Hamdi’s right to counsel. On the other hand, I do not mean to imply agreement that the Government could claim an evidentiary presumption casting the burden of rebuttal on Hamdi or that an opportunity to litigate before a military tribunal might obviate or truncate enquiry by a court on habeas.
Subject to these qualifications, I join with the plurality in a judgment of the Court vacating the Fourth Circuit’s judgment and remanding the case.
justice scalia, with whom justice stevens joins, dissenting.
… This case brings into conflict the competing demands of national security and our citizens’ constitutional right to personal liberty. Although I share the Court’s evident unease as it seeks to reconcile the two, I do not agree with its resolution.
Where the Government accuses a citizen of waging war against it, our constitutional tradition has been to prosecute him in federal court for treason or some other crime. Where the exigencies of war prevent that, the Constitution’s Suspension Clause, Art. I, §9, cl. 2, allows Congress to relax the usual protections temporarily. Absent suspension, however, the Executive’s assertion of military exigency has not been thought sufficient to permit detention without charge. No one contends that the congressional Authorization for Use of Military Force, on which the Government relies to justify its actions here, is an implementation of the Suspension Clause. Accordingly, I would reverse the decision below.…
justice o’connor, writing for a plurality of this Court, asserts that captured enemy combatants (other than those suspected of war crimes) have traditionally been detained until the cessation of hostilities and then released. That is probably an accurate description of wartime practice with respect to enemy aliens. The tradition with respect to American citizens, however, has been quite different. Citizens aiding the enemy have been treated as traitors subject to the criminal process....
There are times when military exigency renders resort to the traditional criminal process impracticable. English law accommodated such exigencies by allowing legislative suspension of the writ of habeas corpus for brief periods….
Where the Executive has not pursued the usual course of charge, committal, and conviction, it has historically secured the Legislature’s explicit approval of a suspension. In England, Parliament on numerous occasions passed temporary suspensions in times of threatened invasion or rebellion….
Our Federal Constitution contains a provision explicitly permitting suspension, but limiting the situations in which it may be invoked: “The privilege of the Writ of Habeas Corpus shall not be suspended, unless when in Cases of Rebellion or Invasion the public Safety may require it.” Art. I, §9, cl. 2. Although this provision does not state that suspension must be effected by, or authorized by, a legislative act, it has been so understood, consistent with English practice and the Clause’s placement in Article I….
Writings from the founding generation also suggest that, without exception, the only constitutional alternatives are to charge the crime or suspend the writ….
… [T]he reasoning and conclusion of [Ex parte] Milligan logically cover the present case. The Government justifies imprisonment of Hamdi on principles of the law of war and admits that, absent the war, it would have no such authority. But if the law of war cannot be applied to citizens where courts are open, then Hamdi’s imprisonment without criminal trial is no less unlawful than Milligan’s trial by military tribunal….
The proposition that the Executive lacks indefinite wartime detention authority over citizens is consistent with the Founders’ general mistrust of military power permanently at the Executive’s disposal….
… Hamdi is entitled to a habeas decree requiring his release unless (1) criminal proceedings are promptly brought, or (2) Congress has suspended the writ of habeas corpus. A suspension of the writ could, of course, lay down conditions for continued detention, similar to those that today’s opinion prescribes under the Due Process Clause. But there is a world of difference between the people’s representatives’ determining the need for that suspension (and prescribing the conditions for it), and this Court’s doing so.
The plurality finds justification for Hamdi’s imprisonment in the Authorization for Use of Military Force….
This is not remotely a congressional suspension of the writ, and no one claims that it is…. The Suspension Clause of the Constitution, which carefully circumscribes the conditions under which the writ can be withheld, would be a sham if it could be evaded by congressional prescription of requirements other than the common-law requirement of committal for criminal prosecution that render the writ, though available, unavailing. If the Suspension Clause does not guarantee the citizen that he will either be tried or released, unless the conditions for suspending the writ exist and the grave action of suspending the writ has been taken; if it merely guarantees the citizen that he will not be detained unless Congress by ordinary legislation says he can be detained; it guarantees him very little indeed….
There is a certain harmony of approach in the plurality’s making up for Congress’s failure to invoke the Suspension Clause and its making up for the Executive’s failure to apply what it says are needed procedures--an approach that reflects what might be called a Mr. Fix-it Mentality. The plurality seems to view it as its mission to Make Everything Come Out Right, rather than merely to decree the consequences, as far as individual rights are concerned, of the other two branches’ actions and omissions. Has the Legislature failed to suspend the writ in the current dire emergency? Well, we will remedy that failure by prescribing the reasonable conditions that a suspension should have included. And has the Executive failed to live up to those reasonable conditions? Well, we will ourselves make that failure good, so that this dangerous fellow (if he is dangerous) need not be set free. The problem with this approach is not only that it steps out of the courts’ modest and limited role in a democratic society; but that by repeatedly doing what it thinks the political branches ought to do it encourages their lassitude and saps the vitality of government by the people.
Several limitations give my views in this matter a relatively narrow compass. They apply only to citizens, accused of being enemy combatants, who are detained within the territorial jurisdiction of a federal court. This is not likely to be a numerous group…. Where the citizen is captured outside and held outside the United States, the constitutional requirements may be different. Moreover, even within the United States, the accused citizen-enemy combatant may lawfully be detained once prosecution is in progress or in contemplation….
I frankly do not know whether these tools are sufficient to meet the Government’s security needs, including the need to obtain intelligence through interrogation. It is far beyond my competence, or the Court’s competence, to determine that. But it is not beyond Congress’s. If the situation demands it, the Executive can ask Congress to authorize suspension of the writ--which can be made subject to whatever conditions Congress deems appropriate, including even the procedural novelties invented by the plurality today. To be sure, suspension is limited by the Constitution to cases of rebellion or invasion. But whether the attacks of September 11, 2001, constitute an “invasion,” and whether those attacks still justify suspension several years later, are questions for Congress rather than this Court. If civil rights are to be curtailed during wartime, it must be done openly and democratically, as the Constitution requires, rather than by silent erosion through an opinion of this Court….
Many think it not only inevitable but entirely proper that liberty give way to security in times of national crisis--that, at the extremes of military exigency, inter arma silent leges. Whatever the general merits of the view that war silences law or modulates its voice, that view has no place in the interpretation and application of a Constitution designed precisely to confront war and, in a manner that accords with democratic principles, to accommodate it. Because the Court has proceeded to meet the current emergency in a manner the Constitution does not envision, I respectfully dissent.
justice thomas, dissenting.
The Executive Branch, acting pursuant to the powers vested in the President by the Constitution and with explicit congressional approval, has determined that Yaser Hamdi is an enemy combatant and should be detained. This detention falls squarely within the Federal Government’s war powers, and we lack the expertise and capacity to second-guess that decision. As such, petitioners’ habeas challenge should fail, and there is no reason to remand the case. The plurality reaches a contrary conclusion by failing adequately to consider basic principles of the constitutional structure as it relates to national security and foreign affairs…. I do not think that the Federal Government’s war powers can be balanced away by this Court. Arguably, Congress could provide for additional procedural protections, but until it does, we have no right to insist upon them. But even if I were to agree with the general approach the plurality takes, I could not accept the particulars. The plurality utterly fails to account for the Government’s compelling interests and for our own institutional inability to weigh competing concerns correctly. I respectfully dissent.