Hamdi v. Rumsfeld, 542 U.S. 507; 124 S. Ct. 2633; 159 L. Ed. 2d 578 (2004)
Facts—Yaser Esam Hamdi, who was born in Louisiana in 1980 but moved as a child with his family to Saudi Arabia, was captured by U.S. forces in Afghanistan and detained first at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, and then at a brig in Charleston, South Carolina on charges of being an “enemy combatant.” His father, Esam Fouad Hamdi, claimed that his son had gone to Afghanistan to do “relief work,” and filed a writ of habeas corpus asking for counsel, for an end to his interrogations, for a declaration that his detention violated the Fifth and Fourteenth Amendments, for an evidential hearing, and for his relief. The district court ordered that counsel be provided, but the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals overturned on the basis that this did not show proper deference to the government’s security and intelligence interests.
Question—To what rights is an American citizen, detained as an “enemy combatant” entitled?
Decision—The right to know the charges against him, the right to a hearing, and the right to counsel.
Reasons—J. O’Connor (for 4 justices; 5–4 ruling). The Authorization for the Use of Military Force provided authority for the government to detain Hamdi. Such detention is an important incident of war that allows the nations to keep enemies off the battlefield and can include U.S. citizens. Such detention should last no longer than hostilities nor is indefinite detention authorized for the use of interrogation.
Neither Ex parte Milligan (1866) nor Ex parte Quirin (1942) exempt U.S. citizens from detention, nor should the government be forced to detain them overseas. Absent suspension, which has not occurred in this case, the writ of habeas corpus remains available. Hamdi disputes the government’s contention that he was an enemy combatant. Consistent with other due process cases, most notably Matthews v. Eldridge (1976), the Court must weigh the respective interests of Hamdi and the government. Matthews noted that “commitment for any purpose constitutes a significant deprivation of liberty that requires due process protection,” especially when such detention may be erroneous. There are also weighty 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.” Practical difficulties could also accompany a full-blown trial. A proper balance requires “notice of the factual basis for his classification, and a fair opportunity to rebut the Government’s factual assertions before a neutral decisionmaker.” Given combat exigencies, the government can use hearsay and “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.” “We have long . . . 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. The government’s proposed ‘some evidence’ standard is inadequate.” However, “There remains the possibility that the standards we have articulated could be met by an appropriately authorized and properly constituted military tribunal.” As part of due process, Hamdi is entitled to the right of counsel.
J. Souter, concurring in part, dissenting in part, and concurring in judgment. Hamdi is entitled to habeas corpus relief. The Authorization of the Use of Military Force is inadequate to justify Hamdi’s detention without affording him rights. The government might even be violating the Geneva Convention. Souter would prefer to remand the case to the Court of Appeals rather than resolving constitutional issues, but he concurs in the plurality judgment in order to give the decision practical effect.
J. Scalia, dissenting. Hamdi should be prosecuted for treason, or the government should release him. The writ of habeas corpus is the only common law writ mentioned in the U.S. Constitution. The Suspension Clause serves as “a safety valve.” Absent use of this suspension, Hamdi is entitled to be released. Milligan limits the authority of military tribunals over U.S. citizens. Quirin differs from this case in that the petitioners there were “admitted enemy invaders.” The Court has no business attempting to come up with alternate procedures “to Make Everything Come Out Right.” It is up to Congress, not the Court, to decide whether the writ should be suspended.
J. Thomas, dissenting. “This detention falls squarely within the Federal Government’s war powers, and we lack the expertise and capacity to second- guess that decision.” National security is “the primary responsibility and purpose of the Federal Government,” and the “unitary Executive” has chief authority in this area as “the sole organ of the nation in its external relations.” This authority “carries with it broad discretion.” Courts lack relevant information and expertise. “Although the President very well may have inherent authority to detain those arrayed against our troops, . . . we need not decide that question because Congress has authorized the President to do so.” In the context of this case, “due process requires nothing more than a good-faith executive determination.” Judicial intervention is more likely to lead to anarchy than to the vindication of rights. Thus, “the Government’s detention of Hamdi as an enemy combatant does not violate the Constitution.”