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Hamdi v. Rumsfeld

Citation. 316 F.3d 450 (4th Cir. 2003) U.S.
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Brief Fact Summary.

American citizen captured in Afghanistan was held as an enemy combatant.

Synopsis of Rule of Law.

“Because it is undisputed that Hamdi was capture in a zone of active combat in a foreign theater of conflict, the submitted declaration is a sufficient basis upon which to conclude that the Commander in Chief has constitutionally detained Hamdi pursuant to the war powers entrusted to him by the United States Constitution.”


Petitioner Hamdi was captured in Afghanistan shortly after 9/11. Hamdi is an American citizen, and was classified as an “enemy combatant.” After a period of petitions, motions, and counter-motions, Hamdi filed for a writ of habeas corpus. The Special Advisor to the Under Secretary of Defense for Policy, Michael Mobbs, issued a response, outlining the Government’s position. The district court found the “Mobbs declaration” insufficient in supporting the Government’s case.


“[W]hether a declaration by a Special Advisor to the Under Secretary of Defense for Policy setting forth what the government contends were the circumstances of Hamdi’s capture was sufficient by itself to justify his detention.”


Yes. First, the Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit acknowledged that the Constitution creates “war powers” that invest “the President, as Commander in Chief, with the power to wage war which Congress has declared, and to carry into effect all laws passed by Congress for the conducts of war…” The Court also noted that since Article III of the Constitution does not have any sort of war powers analog, “the Supreme Court has shown great deference to the political branches” in war matters. However, the Court noted that this deference is “not unlimited,” and that habeas corpus is still valid. The Court found that is must approach this case by balancing the tension of individual rights and national security interests.

• The Court rejected Hamdi’s assertion that 18 U.S.C. § 4001 prohibited his incarceration, in light of the broad authorization Congress granted the President post 9/11.

• The Court rejected Hamdi’s assertion of the Geneva Convention because it is not self-executing and does not “create private rights of action in the domestic courts of the signatory countries.”

• The Court rejected Hamdi’s petition as a matter of law because the order required substantial factual information from the government. The Court found that impossible because of security concerns, and the impracticality of demanding factual analysis during battle.

• As to whether Hamdi’s petition needed to be remanded, the Court identified two issues First, Hamdi argued while his seizure was valid, his “continued detention in this country without the full panoply of constitutional protections is unlawful.” The Court held that the data in the Mobbs affidavit was sufficient under Article II. Second, whether, “because he is an American citizen currently detained on American soil by the military, Hamdi can be heard in an Article III court to rebut the factual assertions that were submitted to support the ‘enemy combatant’ designation.’” The Court held that “no evidentiary hearing or factual inquiry on [its] part is necessary or proper, because it is undisputed that Hamdi was capture in a zone of active combat.” Hamdi finally contended that “even if his detention was at one time lawful, it is no longer so because the relevant hostilities have reached an end.” Because troops were still on the ground, the Court did not see reason to address the concern.


“Cases such as Hamdi’s raise serious questions which the courts will continue to treat as such. The nation has fought since its founding for the liberty without which security rings hollow and for security without which liberty cannot thrive. The judiciary was meant to respect the delicacy of the balance.”

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