Hamdi v. Rumsfeld
542 U.S. 507 (2004)
548 U.S. 557 (2006)

  • Hamdi was an American citizen captured on the battlefield in Afghanistan. He was accused of fighting for the Taliban against the US, declared an enemy combatant, and transferred to a military prison in Virginia.
    • Hamdi claimed that he wasn't fighting anybody, he was simply a relief worker.
      • Hamdi admitted that he resided in Afghanistan, which the government argued that was proof he was an enemy combatant.
    • Congress had previously authorized the use of force against Afghanistan. (The Authorization for the Use of Military Force (AUMF)).
  • Hamdi filed a writ of habeus corpus to have his detention declared unconstitutional.
    • Hamdi argued that the government had violated his 5th Amendment right to due process by holding him indefinitely and not giving him access to an attorney or a trial.
    • The government argued that the Executive Branch had the right, during wartime, to declare people who fight against the United States enemy combatants and thus restrict their access to the court system.
  • The Trial Court ruled for Hamdi. The government appealed.
  • The Appellate Court reversed and remanded.
    • The Appellate Court found that the Trial Court should defer to the Executive Branch's enemy combatant determination.
    • The Appellate Court found that the separation of powers required Federal courts to practice restraint during wartime because "the Executive and Legislative Branches are organized to supervise the conduct of overseas conflict in a way that the judiciary simply is not."
  • The Trial Court again found for Hamdi. The government appealed.
    • The Trial Court found the evidence offered by the government was woefully inadequate and based mostly on hearsay and bare assertions.
    • The Trial Court ordered the government to produce numerous documents for review by the judge in chambers that would enable it to perform a "meaningful judicial review." Citing national security concerns, the government appealed the requirement to produce such evidence.
  • The Appellate Court once again reversed the Trial Court and denied a petition for rehearing. Hamdi appealed.
    • The Appellate Court found that because it was, "undisputed that Hamdi was captured in a zone of active combat in a foreign theater of conflict," the Appelate Court stated that it was not proper for any court to hear a challenge of his status.
    • The Appellate Court ruled that the broad warmaking powers delegated to the President under Article II and the principle of separation of powers prohibited courts from interfering in this vital area of national security.
  • The US Supreme Court came to a split decision. But, eight of the nine justices of the Court agreed that the Executive Branch does not have the power to hold indefinitely a US citizen without basic due process protections enforceable through judicial review.
    • The plurality found that although Congress authorized Hamdi's detention via the AUMF, 5th Amendment due process guarantees give a citizen held in the US as an enemy combatant the right to contest that detention before a neutral decisionmaker.
    • The plurality rejected the government's argument that the separation of powers prevents the judiciary from hearing Hamdi's challenge.
    • The plurality found that Hamdi could not be held indefinitely. He could only be held as long as the US was involved in armed conflict with the Taleban.
      • That's open ended, but not as open ended as the President's contention that Hamdi could be held forever.
    • The plurality found that a full trial was not necessary to determine whether Hamdi was or was not an enemy combatant. A military tribunal would (probably) suffice.
      • They also suggest some liberties that could possibly be taken, such as the introduction of hearsay evidence that wouldn't be allowed in a normal US Court.
  • There were a whole bunch of concurrences and dissents:
    • In one concurrence, it was argued that Hamdi had the right to challenge in Court his status as an enemy combatant.
      • 18 USC 4001(a) says that "no citizen shall be imprisoned or otherwise detained by the United States except pursuant to an Act of Congress."
        • This law was enacted to stop abuses like the detention of Japanese-Americans during WWII.
        • The President argued that the AUMF satisfied 18 USC 4001(a).
    • Another concurrence disagreed with the plurality's view that Congress authorized Hamdi's detention.
    • A dissent argued that the President didn't even need the AUMF to hold someone. The President just inherently had the power to do that.
    • A concurrence argued that Hamdi should be held as a prisoner of war under the Geneva Conventions. If the government is going to ignore the Geneva Conventions they can't make up a new version of prisoner of war that suits their needs.
    • A concurrence noted that the government was arguing that there is such a big emergency going on that they can't be bothered to meet previous laws. But Hamdi had been held for several years, so how much of an emergency could there possibly be?
    • In a dissent it was argued that based on historical precedent, the government had only two options to detain a US citizen: either Congress must suspend the right to habeas corpus (a power provided for under the Constitution only in times of invasion or rebellion), which hadn't happened; or Hamdi must be tried under normal criminal law (for treason).
      • The dissent argued that there was no basis in law for trying to establish new procedures that would be applicable in a challenge to Hamdi's detention, it was only the job of the Court to declare it unconstitutional and order his release or proper arrest, rather than to invent an acceptable process for detention.
      • The dissent felt that if the Congress did suspend habeus corpus, then that's non-judicable, and the Courts shouldn't interfere with it.
  • In this case, the Supreme Court did not rule on what rights an enemy combatant actually has. This case only determined that a person has a right to challenge whether or not they are an enemy combatant in court. It was really a cop-out.