Petitioners were designated as enemy combatants and detained at Guantanamo Bay. The procedures for challenging their designations were laid out in the Detainee Treatment Act of 2005. The detainees sought habeas corpus.
Non-citizens designated as enemy combatants detained at the United States Naval Station at Guantanamo Bay in Cuba have the constitutional privilege of habeas corpus.
Petitioners were non-citizens designated as enemy combatants and detained at the United States Naval Station at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. Congress enacted the Detainee Treatment Act of 2005 (DTA) that provides certain procedures for review of detainees’ status. The detainees sought habeas corpus.
Do non-citizens designated as enemy combatants detained at the United States Naval Station at Guantanamo Bay in Cuba have the constitutional privilege of habeas corpus?
Yes, non-citizens designated as enemy combatants and detained at the United States Naval Station at Guantanamo Bay in Cuba have the constitutional privilege of habeas corpus.
Justice Roberts argued that the Supreme Court should have upheld the DTA procedures, and instead it replaced them with undefined procedures to be established by the courts.
Justice Scalia argued that habeas corpus has never extended to detainees in the present circumstances, and that the Supreme Court failed to rely on precedent or established principles for the sake of “judicial supremacy.”
Justice Souter emphasized the importance of the Supreme Court’s holding in light of six year-long detentions at Guantanamo Bay.
The Court held that the Constitutional Framers considered the writ of habeas corpus to be deeply important to individual liberty, citing the limited grounds available for its suspension, as the the Suspension Clause. To address the specific question of whether foreign nationals are entitled to habeas corpus during times of serious threat to national security, the Court also cited its own precedent, beginning in 1789, establishing the the Suspension Clause protects the writ of habeas corpus at least as it existed with the Constitution was ratified.
The Government argued that the Suspension Clause does not protect the Guantanamo Bay detainees because the United States does not claim sovereignty over Guantanamo Bay. The Supreme Court held that the United States has de facto sovereignty over Guantanamo Bay, because of the uncontested fact that the United States, as per a lease between the Untied States and Cuba, exercises complete jurisdiction and control over Guantanamo Bay, though Cuba maintains ultimate sovereignty under the same lease. According to the Supreme Court, to allow the government to avoid constitutional limitations by entering into these kinds of agreements–that is, agreements in which a third party formally retains sovereignty, but the United States exercises complete control– would be to allow the government to contract the Constitution away.
The Supreme Court set forth three considerations as relevant factors in determining the reach of the Suspension Clause, based on factors from Eisentrager: (1) the citizenship and status of the detainee and the adequacy of the process through which that status determination was made; (2) the nature of the sites where apprehension and detention took place; and (3) the practical obstacles inherent in resolving the prisoner’s entitlement to the writ.
Applying the first factor, the Court held that the DTA procedures afforded to the detainees here were not sufficient to eliminate the need for habeas corpus review. The detainees were afforded “Personal Representative(s)”, but these representatives were explicitly not meant to be detainees’ lawyers or advocates. The Government’s evidence is afforded a presumption of validity, and detainees’ ability to rebut that evidence is limited by their confinement and lack of counsel.
Applying the second factor, the Court considered the fact that the detainees’ place of detention was technically outside of United States sovereign territory, which weighs against the right to habeas corpus in this analysis. However, it does not weigh as heavily against them as this factor did in Eisentrager, in which the United States did not have absolute or indefinite control over the place of detention.
Finally, applying the third factor, the Court found that there could be expenditures of funds and other resources required for extending habeas corpus to Guantanamo Bay, but this is not dispositive, and there are credible arguments that the military mission would be compromised at Guantanamo Bay if the Government did not extend habeas corpus there.
Although the Supreme Court held that the detainees are entitled to habeas corpus, it also held that the government is afforded some deference under these circumstances to balance the interest in national security with detainees interest in access to justice.