The Habeas cases: Boumediene, Hamdi, Hamdan, and Rasul

Since 2004 there have been four important Supreme Court cases related to the right of habeas and the extent of the power of executive detention. In each case plaintiffs were swept up by the War on Terror, detained without trial by the government, and sued for habeas. And in each case the court has ruled against the government’s arguments of the expansive executive power to designate individuals as “enemy combatants” to strip away their rights. The cases are:

Rasul v. Bush (2004) – Four non-citizens were captured in Afghanistan and Pakistan and detained in Guantanamo. They were denied habeas, and they petitioned for recognition of their Fifth Amendment Due Process rights. The government claimed that because Guantanamo was outside of the United States, they can’t seek constitutional relief. The D.C. Circuit affirmed for the government.

The Supreme Court reversed the D.C. Circuit. Justice Stevens wrote that the right of habeas applies at Guantanamo because it’s under U.S. control. Furthermore, habeas does not depend on citizenship status. So the plaintiffs are able to bring suit in federal court.

Hamdi v. Rumsfeld (2004) – Yaser Hamdi, an American citizen, was arrested in Afghanistan and transferred to Virginia. He was detained indefinitely without trial or access to an attorney. His father brought suit. The government argued that the executive branch had to be allowed to detain in wartime. The Fourth Circuit ruled for the government.

The Supreme Court reversed. Justice O’Connor ruled that enemy combatants have the right to seek review by a neutral decisionmaker.

Hamdan v. Rumsfeld (2006) – Salim Ahmed Hamdan was Osama Bin Laden’s former chauffeur. He was captured and detained in Guantanamo. He filed for habeas, and a military commission designated him an enemy combatant. Plaintiff argued that he was protected by the Geneva Conventions and that military commission was unauthorized by Congress. The D.C. Circuit ruled for the government.

The Supreme Court reversed. Justice Stevens wrote that military commissions violated the Geneva Conventions and the Uniform Code of Military Justice. Therefore the his trial by military commission was declared illegal.

Boumediene v. Bush (2008) – Boumediene is the furthest-reaching of these cases. Lakhdar Boumediene was an Algerian in Bosnia who was seized by police and turned over to American authorities. The government designated him an enemy combatant and detained him at Guantanamo. Furthermore, Congress had passed the Military Commissions Act to expressly eliminate federal courts’ jurisdiction to hear habeas claims made by those designated as enemy combatants. Boumediene sued for habeas. The D.C. Circuit ruled for the government.

Boumediene was on a hunger strike in Guantanamo when the Supreme Court reversed the D.C. Circuit. Justice Kennedy wrote that the Military Commissions Act was unconstitutional and that all prisoners confined at Guantanamo had a right to habeas through the U.S. court system.