Facts of the case
In 2002 Lakhdar Boumediene and five other Algerian natives were seized by Bosnian police when U.S. intelligence officers suspected their involvement in a plot to attack the U.S. embassy there. The U.S. government classified the men as enemy combatants in the war on terror and detained them at the Guantanamo Bay Naval Base, which is located on land that the U.S. leases from Cuba. Boumediene filed a petition for a writ of habeas corpus, alleging violations of the Constitution’s Due Process Clause, various statutes and treaties, the common law, and international law. The District Court judge granted the government’s motion to have all of the claims dismissed on the ground that Boumediene, as an alien detained at an overseas military base, had no right to a habeas petition. The U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit affirmed the dismissal but the Supreme Court reversed in Rasul v. Bush , which held that the habeas statute extends to non-citizen detainees at Guantanamo.In 2006, Congress passed the Military Commissions Act of 2006 (MCA). The Act eliminates federal courts’ jurisdiction to hear habeas applications from detainees who have been designated (according to procedures established in the Detainee Treatment Act of 2005) as enemy combatants. When the case was appealed to the D.C. Circuit for the second time, the detainees argued that the MCA did not apply to their petitions, and that if it did, it was unconstitutional under the Suspension Clause. The Suspension Clause reads: 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.The D.C. Circuit ruled in favor of the government on both points. It cited language in the MCA applying the law to all cases, without exceptionthat pertain to aspects of detention. One of the purposes of the MCA, according to the Circuit Court, was to overrule the Supreme Court’s opinion in Hamdan v. Rumsfeld , which had allowed petitions like Boumediene’s to go forward. The D.C. Circuit held that the Suspension Clause only protects the writ of habeas corpus as it existed in 1789, and that the writ would not have been understood in 1789 to apply to an overseas military base leased from a foreign government. Constitutional rights do not apply to aliens outside of the United States, the court held, and the leased military base in Cuba does not qualify as inside the geographic borders of the U.S. In a rare reversal, the Supreme Court granted certiorari after initially denying review three months earlier.
Why is the case important?
Aliens classified as enemy combatants in custody at Guantanamo Bay request the court to determine whether they have the right to file a writ for habeas corpus, which is a constitutional privilege not revoked except if the Suspension Clause is in effect.
Do aliens who are enemy combatants have the right to habeas corpus under the constitution, and do the alternative procedures substituted by Congress not act as sufficient or effective options?
(Kennedy, J.) Yes. Aliens who are enemy combatants have the right to habeas corpus under the constitution, and the alternative procedures substituted by Congress were not sufficient or effective. The framers of the constitution believed that it was a basic tenet of liberty to enjoy freedom from unlawful restraint, and the writ of habeas corpus was a provision meant to make this freedom secure. The Suspension Clause (Art. I, Section 9, cl. 2) protects this as well, providing that it may be suspended only in cases of a threat to public safety as in rebellion or invasion. While the geographical extent to which the clause covers this writ is not clear, at least it is obvious that the writ as it existed at the time of the original drafting and ratification of the constitution was protected. The Government (P) pleads that the U.S. does not have sovereignty over the place of incarceration, namely, Guantanamo Bay, and therefore the petitioners do not have rights under the Clause. However, it is clear that Guanatanamo Bay has been under U.S. control for more than a hundred years. In order to decide whether it is covered by the Clause, three factors must be considered: (1) the citizenship and status of the detainee, and whether the determination of that status was through a valid and sufficient process (2) the type of place where first apprehension and later detention occurred (3) the practical hindrances in determining whether the prisoner has a right to the writ. In the first place, the petitioners are aliens, arrested outside the U.S. Secondly, the detention center is under the complete control of the U.S. and is under its jurisdiction. Thirdly, the costs involved are not such as to rule out the habeas proceedings automatically. Thus the conclusion is that the Clause is effective at Guantanamo Bay, and Congress must act accordingly. The Military Commission Act of 2006 is not and was not intended to be a substitute of habeas corpus, and thus the petitioners are entitled to dispute the lawfulness of their detention by filing the writ.
Under the Suspension Clause, the writ of habeas corpus may be suspended only in cases of rebellion or invasion when public safety requires it. The Suspension Clause, U.S. Const. art. I, § 9, cl. 2 , had full effect at Guantanamo Bay. In order to deny habeas corpus, therefore, Congress had to act in conformance with the Suspension Clause. The procedures set forth in the Detainee Treatment Act, 109 Pub. L. No. 148, 119 Stat. 2680, were not an adequate and effective substitute for habeas corpus as detainees were not allowed to present exculpatory evidence that was not part of the record in the Combatant Status Review Tribunal proceedings. Thus, 28 U.S.C.S. § 2241(e) effected an unconstitutional suspension of the writ of habeas corpus. The detainees were not required to exhaust the review procedures in the appellate court before proceeding with their habeas actions given the already lengthy delay.
- Advocates: Paul D. Clement on behalf of the Respondents Seth P. Waxman on behalf of the Petitioners
- Petitioner: Lakhdar Boumediene et al.
- Respondent: George W. Bush, President of the United States, et al.
- DECIDED BY:Roberts Court
- Location: U.S. Naval Base at Guantanamo Bay
|Citation:||553 US 723 (2008)|
|Granted:||Jun 29, 2007|
|Argued:||Dec 5, 2007|
|Decided:||Jun 12, 2008|