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Boumediene v. Bush, 553 U.S. (2008)

 Procedural History:

A writ of habeas corpus submission made in a civilian court of the United States on behalf of Lakhdar Boumediene, a naturalized citizen of Bosnia and Herzegovina, held in military detention by the United States at the Guantanamo Bay detention camps


In the Authorization for Use of Military Force Congress empowered the President “to use all necessary and appropriate force against those . . . he determines planned, authorized, committed, or aided the terrorist attacks . . . on September 11, 2001.” In Hamdi v. Rumsfeld, five Justices recognized that detaining individuals captured while fighting against the United States in Afghanistan for the duration of that conflict was a fundamental and accepted incident to war. Thereafter, the Defense Department established Combatant Status Review Tribunals (CSRTs) to determine whether individuals detained at the U. S. Naval Station at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, were “enemy combatants.” Petitioners are aliens detained at Guantanamo after being captured in Afghanistan or elsewhere abroad and designated enemy combatants by CSRTs. Denying membership in the al Qaeda terrorist network that carried out the September 11 attacks and the Taliban regime that supported al Qaeda, each petitioner sought a writ of habeas corpus in the District Court, which ordered the cases dismissed for lack of jurisdiction because Guantanamo is outside sovereign U. S. territory. The D. C. Circuit affirmed, but this Court reversed, holding that 28 U. S. C. §2241 extended statutory habeas jurisdiction to Guantanamo. Petitioners’ cases were then consolidated into two proceedings. In the first, the district judge granted the Government’s motion to dismiss, holding that the detainees had no rights that could be vindicated in a habeas action. In the second, the judge held that the detainees had due process rights.

 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 exception" that 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.


1.                  Should the Military Commissions Act of 2006 be interpreted to strip federal courts of jurisdiction over habeas petitions filed by foreign citizens detained at the U.S. Naval Base at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, and if so, is the Military Commissions Act of 2006 a violation of the Suspension Clause of the Constitution?

2.                  Are the detainees at Guantanamo Bay entitled to the protection of the 5th Amendment right not to be deprived of liberty without due process of law and of the Geneva Conventions, and can the detainees challenge the adequacy of judicial review provisions of the MCA before they have sought to invoke that review?


A 5 to 4 majority answered yes to each of these questions. The opinion stated that if the MCA is considered valid its legislative history requires that the detainees' cases be dismissed. However, the Court went on to state that because the procedures laid out in the Detainee Treatment Act are not adequate substitutes for the habeas writ, the MCA operates as an unconstitutional suspension of that writ. The detainees were not barred from seeking habeas or invoking the Suspension Clause merely because they had been designated as enemy combatants or held at Guantanamo Bay. The Court reversed the D.C. Circuit's ruling and found in favor of the detainees. Justice David H. Souter concurred in the judgment. Chief Justice John G. Roberts and Justice Antonin Scalia filed separate dissenting opinions.

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