Hamdi v. Rumsfeld

PETITIONER: Yaser Esam Hamdi and Esam Fouad Hamdi, as Next Friend of Yaser Esam Hamdi
RESPONDENT: Donald H. Rumsfeld, Secretary of Defense, et al.
LOCATION: Guantanamo Bay, Cuba

DOCKET NO.: 03-6696
DECIDED BY: Rehnquist Court (1986-2005)
LOWER COURT: United States Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit

CITATION: 542 US 507 (2004)
GRANTED: Jan 09, 2004
ARGUED: Apr 28, 2004
DECIDED: Jun 28, 2004

Frank W. Dunham, Jr. - argued the cause for Petitioners
Karen B. Tripp - for the Eagle Forum Education & Legal Defense Fund as amicus curiae
Paul D. Clement - argued the cause for Respondents

Facts of the case

In the fall of 2001, Yaser Hamdi, an American citizen, was detained by the United States military in Afghanistan. He was accused of fighting for the Taliban against the U.S., declared an "enemy combatant," and was held in Guantanamo Bay. Upon learning he was an American citizen, he was transferred to a military prison in Virginia. Hamdi’s father, Esam Fouad Hamdi, filed a petition for a writ of habeas corpus naming himself as Hamdi’s “next friend,” in an attempt to have Hamdi’s detention declared unconstitutional. The district court granted Hamdi’s petition, and appointed the Federal Public Defender for the Eastern District of Virginia, Frank Dunham, Jr., as counsel for the petitioners. He argued that the government had violated Hamdi's Fifth Amendment right to Due Process by holding him indefinitely and not giving him access to an attorney or a trial. The government countered 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 district court refused to answer the question of whether the declaration of "enemy combatant" was sufficient to justify his detention without review of materials and criteria used in making the determination. It ordered the government to produce these materials for a review by the court. Not wanting to produce these materials, the government appealed. The Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals panel reversed, finding 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 panel therefore found that it should defer to the Executive Branch's "enemy combatant" determination.


Did the government violate Hamdi's Fifth Amendment right to Due Process by holding him indefinitely, without access to an attorney, based solely on an Executive Branch declaration that he was an "enemy combatant" who fought against the United States? Does the separation of powers doctrine require federal courts to defer to Executive Branch determinations that an American citizen is an "enemy combatant"?

Media for Hamdi v. Rumsfeld

Audio Transcription for Oral Argument - April 28, 2004 in Hamdi v. Rumsfeld

Audio Transcription for Opinion Announcement - June 28, 2004 in Hamdi v. Rumsfeld

William H. Rehnquist:

The opinion of the Court in No. 03-6696, Hamdi versus Rumsfeld will be announced by Justice O’Connor.

Sandra Day O'Connor:

This case comes here on certiorari to the United States Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit.

One week after the al Qaeda terrorist network used highjacked commercial airliners to attack prominent targets in the United States, Congress passed a resolution known as the Authorization for Use of Military Force, the acronym is -- I do not know how to pronounce it -- AUMF.

By its terms, the AUMF authorize the President to “use all necessary and appropriate force against those nations, organizations, or persons he determined planned, authorized, commited, or aided the terrorist attacks.”

Soon thereafter, the President ordered the United States Armed Forces to Afghanistan to subdue al Qaeda and the quell that is supporting Taliban regime.

The petitioner, Yaser Esam Hamdi is an American citizen whom the government has classified as an enemy combatant for allegedly taking up arms with the Taliban during this conflict.

He is being detained at a naval brig in South Carolina.

Hamdi’s father filed a present habeas petition on his behalf alleging, among other things, that the government is holding his son in violation of the Fifth and Fourteenth Amendments.

Although the petition did not elaborate on the factual circumstances of Hamdi’s capture and detention, his father has asserted elsewhere that Hamdi went to Afghanistan to do relief work less than two months before September 11th and could not have received military training.

The government attached its response to the habeas petition a declaration from defense department official, Michael Mobbs.

The Mobbs' declaration alleges various details regarding Hamdi’s trip to Afghanistan, his affiliation there with a Taliban unit during a time when the Taliban was battleling US allies, and his subsequent surrender of an assault riffle.

The District Court found that the Mobbs' declaration standing alone did not support Hamdi’s detention and ordered the government to turn over numerous additional materials for its review.

The Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals reversed stressing that because it was undisputed that Hamdi was captured in an active combat zone, no factual inquiry or evidentiary hearing allowing him to be heard or to rebut the government’s assertion was necessary or proper, concluding that the factual averments in the Mobbs' declaration, if accurate, provided a sufficient basis upon which to conclude that the President has constitutionally detained Hamdi, the Court of Appeals ordered the habeas petition dismissed.

We now vacate that judgment and remand the case for further proceedings.

Eight members of the Court agreed that judgment must be vacated or reversed but we are divided on the reasons.

The plurality opinion joined by the Chief Justice, Justice Kennedy, Justice Breyer, and myself concludes that Congress in the AUMF resolution has authorized the detention of enemy combatants in the narrow circumstances alleged in this case, but that due process demands that a United State citizen held in the United States as an enemy combatant must be given a meaningful opportunity to contest the factual basis for that detention before a neutral decision maker.

The first of our conclusions that detention is authorized is based on the necessary and appropriate force language of the AUMF.

It is been long recognized that preventive detention for the duration of the act of hostilities on a traditional battle field is a necessary and appropriate incident of war.

At least as to enemy combatants of the sort the government seeks to detain in this case, namely individual who were part of or supporting forces hostile to the United States or coalition partners in Afghanistan and who engaged in armed conflict against the United States.

And as the Court held in Ray Huron, the case of an American citizen who acted as a Nazi spy during World War II, there is no bar to this nation’s holding one of its own citizens as an enemy combatant.

Although he disagrees with the plurality’s reasoning, Justice Thomas in a separate opinion agrees that Congress has authorize such detention.

The second of our conclusions, that Hamdi is entitled to further fact finding rejects the Fourth Circuit’s conclusion that further process is unnecessary based on what it labeled undisputed fact.

Hamdi was held entirely incommunicado and denied access to counsel until very recently.

The record does not disclose that he has conceided the fact as to the circumstances surrounding his seizure.

The statement in his habeas petition that he resided in Afghanistan when he was seized is not a confession that he was part of or supporting forces hostile to the United States and engaged in an armed conflict against the United States.

The government urges us to hold that further factual exploration is nevertheless unwarranted in light of the constitutional interest at stake, and that so long as it puts forth some evidence supporting its classification of Hamdi as an enemy combatant, he should have no greater chance to challenge that determination.

We disagree although, we recognize the legitimacy of some of the government’s concerns.

Using the balancing test set forth in Mathews versus Eldridge, we determine the process that is due in this circumstance by weighing the citizen’s fundamental liberty interest in being free from involuntary confinement against the way the government interest in insuring that those who have in fact fought with the enemy during a war do not return to battle against the United States.

Ultimately, we conclude 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 decision maker.

At the same time, enemy combatant proceedings may be tailored to alleviate their uncommon potential to burden the executive at a time of ongoing military conflict.