Petitioners, a citizen-detainee and his father, petitioned for a writ of habeas corpus. The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit dismissed the petition, finding that the citizen-detainee’s detention was legally authorized and that he was entitled to no further opportunity to challenge his enemy-combatant label.
Due process guarantees that American citizens detained as enemy combatants must be given a meaningful opportunity to contest the factual basis for that detention before a neutral decision-maker.
In 2001, in response to 9/11, Congress passed the Authorization for Use of Military Force (AUMF), authorizing the President to use all appropriate and necessary force against persons suspected of engaging in terrorist activity against the United States. Yaser, a U.S. citizen, was seized in Afghanistan on suspicion that he was actively working with the Taliban regime. The U.S. interrogated Yaser in Afghanistan before transferring him to the Guantanamo Bay. After the authorities learned that he was an American citizen, he was transferred Virginia and then South Carolina. The Government contended that because Hamdi was an “enemy combatant” it could hold him indefinitely in the United States without formal charges or proceedings until it determined that access to counsel or further process was warranted. Yaser’s father filed a writ of habeas corpus, alleging that Yaser’s detainment violated the Fifth and Fourteenth Amendments, and demanding that Yaser be appointed counsel and given a fair hearing. The government filed a motion to dismiss, which included an outline of the evidence against Yaser, called the Mobbs Report. The district court found that the Mobbs Report did not contain enough evidence to hold Yaser without trial. The Fourth Circuit reversed, holding that the United States acted constitutionally in detaining Yaser, and Yaser petitioned for certiorari to the U.S. Supreme Court. The U.S. Supreme Court granted certiorari.
Did the government violate Yaser’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“?
Yes. The U.S. Supreme Court vacated and remanded for further proceedings, holding that Yaser was entitled to a hearing that contained the protections of the Constitution.
Justice Scalia & Stevens
The due process protections available to citizens are distinguishable from those available to non-citizens. While non-citizens accused of aiding the enemy and captured during times of war can be held until the end of the conflict, citizens accused of aiding the enemy were regarded as traitors and processed through the criminal justice system. The Fourteenth Amendment guarantees the right to a fair hearing, absent invocation of the Suspension Clause. The executive branch cannot unilaterally relax constitutional due process protections unless Congress suspends those protections. Only Congress may suspend this criminal process for citizens, and the executive can only bring about this result by asking Congress to act.
Here, the plurality ignored this tradition and formulated a new system for citizen enemy combatants to be processed. Because both parties agree that the Suspension Clause was not invoked here, Yaser should be afforded his due process right to a fair hearing in front of a judge, like any other criminal citizen.
Congress, not the courts, should be the one to consider this issue because it was not the role of the courts to define the federal government’s war powers. Here, the plurality failed to properly consider the Government’s compelling interests at stake and the judiciary’s limited role in balancing this and private interests. Not only would forcing the government to gather additional evidence to prove that an enemy combatant is lawfully detained be costly and time intensive, but it may also compromise confidential intelligence, which a detainee could then use against the U.S. The national security interests outweighed Yaser’s individual liberty interest, and therefore the judgment of the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals should be affirmed.
Justice Souter and Ginsberg
In light of the Non-Detention Act (which prohibited the detention of American citizens without Congress’s explicit act), the AUMF does not authorize detention of classified enemy combatants. Here, Congress did not explicitly act to permit the detention of Yaser. Instead, it granted general war powers to the President. However, it created a conflict of interest to let the President make the determination affecting the liberty of citizens when he was also entrusted with protecting national security interests. This was because liberty and security interests were necessarily at odds with each other. For these reasons, Yaser’s detention was unlawful, the question of what procedure was due to challenge a classification as an enemy combatant is unnecessary.
Due process guarantees that American citizens detained as enemy combatants must be given a meaningful opportunity to contest the factual basis for that detention before a neutral decision-maker. The government must provide basic procedures for the citizen-detainee to challenge his detention. the Fourteenth Amendment guarantees the right to due process under the law. Furthermore, absent suspension, all persons detained in the United States have the right to habeas corpus. This means that an individual accused of criminal activity cannot be detained indefinitely, with no trial, no counsel, and no ability to petition for freedom if he is wrongfully imprisoned. To determine the due process issues, the private interest affected by the official action must be weighed against the government’s asserted interest, including the function involved and the burdens the government would face in providing greater process.
Here, Congress authorized Yaser’s detention and seizure. This is because Yaser was seized for allegedly engaging in terrorist activity and Congress passed Authorization for Use of Military Force (AUMF) resolution which authorized the President to exercise the “necessary and proper force” to combat terrorist activity. However, Yaser’s interest in being free from involuntary detention must be weighed against the government’s interest in ensuring that enemy combatants would not return. The constitutional guarantees of liberty would be best served if a citizen-detainee seeking to challenge his classification as an enemy combatant received notice of the factual basis for his classification and a fair opportunity to rebut the government’s factual assertions before a neutral decision-maker. However, so long as the government provided these core elements, it could tailor other aspects of proceedings to lighten the burden on the executive branch during times of military conflict. Under these criteria, Yaser was denied due process, and therefore was entitled to a hearing that contained the protections of the Constitution. The government must provide Yaser with basic proceedings to challenge his classification as an enemy combatant. Therefore, the ruling of the court of appeals is vacated and remanded.