Hamdan v. Rumsfeld Case Brief

Facts of the case

Salim Ahmed Hamdan, Osama bin Laden’s former chauffeur, was captured by Afghan forces and imprisoned by the U.S. military in Guantanamo Bay. He filed a petition for a writ of habeas corpus in federal district court to challenge his detention. Before the district court ruled on the petition, he received a hearing from a military tribunal, which designated him an enemy combatant.A few months later, the district court granted Hamdan’s habeas petition, ruling that he must first be given a hearing to determine whether he was a prisoner of war under the Geneva Convention before he could be tried by a military commission. The Circuit Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia reversed the decision, however, finding that the Geneva Convention could not be enforced in federal court and that the establishment of military tribunals had been authorized by Congress and was therefore not unconstitutional.

Why is the case important?

&nbsp Hamdan was charged with conspiracy to commit offences triable by a military commission and was granted Habeas Corpus to dispute this charge.


Whether Hamdan committed a crime triable by military commissions and whether that commission is constitutional.


No. The President at a time of war has the power to try and punish crimes against the laws of nations. This is the constitutional provision used to show that military commission tribunals are legal. However, this court feels that only certain circumstances allow for offense to be triable in a military commission. Those offenses are 1 in place of civilian courts when marital law has been declared, 2 temporary military government in occupied territory or in lands where there is no government to try cases, and 3 when the crime is an incident to the conduct of war which violate the laws of war. The court states that only the 3rd type applies, however the charge of conspiracy is not an incident to the conduct of war. Incidents of war are accusations of actual conduct, not the attempt or planning of such conduct. Inchoate criminal charges belong in a federal court or court martial proceeding. Secondly this commission violates not only constitutional rights afforded an individual, but also rules established by the Uniform Code of Military Justice (UCMJ) and the Geneva Conventions. A military commission tribunal must have rules and regulations that do not fall short of at least a military court marshal proceeding. The lack of presence and ability to see the evidence and witness before you is not constitutional. Therefore Hamdan should not be tried in front of this commission. This court reversed the commission’s charges of conspiracy.


The government’s motion to dismiss was denied because the statute at hand did not repeal federal jurisdiction over pending habeas actions. Abstention was not warranted as petitioner was not an Armed Forces member and the tribunal convened to try him was not part of the integrated system of military courts established by Congress. Review of the commission’s procedures in advance of a final decision was appropriate as petitioner had no automatic right to review of the commission’s decision before a federal court under the Detainee Treatment Act. The fact that the petitioner already had been excluded from his own trial provided a basis to presume that the procedures employed would violate the law. On the merits, the military commission convened to try petitioner lacked power to proceed as its structure and procedures violated the Uniform Code of Military Justice. The President’s practicability determination was insufficient to justify variances from the procedures governing courts-martial. The procedures also violated the Geneva Conventions as they did not meet common article 3’s requirements.

  • Advocates: Neal Kumar Katyal argued the cause for Petitioner Paul D. Clement argued the cause for Respondents
  • Petitioner: Salim Ahmed Hamdan
  • Respondent: Donald H. Rumsfeld, Secretary of Defense, et al.
  • DECIDED BY:Roberts Court
  • Location: Guantanamo Prison
Citation: 548 US 557 (2006)
Granted: Nov 7, 2005
Argued: Mar 28, 2006
Decided: Jun 29, 2006
Hamdan v. Rumsfeld Case Brief