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Hamdan v. Rumsfeld

    Brief Fact Summary. After Hamdan (P) was captured in Afghanistan, a U.S. military commission began proceedings against him. The authority of the commission was challenged by Hamdan (P).

    Synopsis of Rule of Law. The congress or the inherent powers of the President did not authorize the military commission established to try those deemed “enemy combatants†for alleged war crimes in the War on Terror.
    (2) The rights protected by the Geneva Convention may be enforced in federal court through habeas corpus petitions.

    Facts. Afghan forces captured Salim Ahmed Hamdan (P) and the U.S. military imprisoned him at Guantanamo Bay. He challenged his imprisonment by filing a petition for a writ of habeas corpus in the federal district court but before the court could rule on the petition, a U.S. military commission began proceeding and named Hamdan (P) an enemy combatant. Hamdan (P) challenged the authority of the commission on the ground that the commission trial would violate his rights under Article 102 of the Geneva Convention, which provides that a “prisoner of war can be validly sentenced only if the sentence has been pronounced by the same courts according to the same procedure as in the case of members of the armed forces of the Detaining Powerâ€.
    Hamdan’s habeas petition was granted by the district court’s, ruling that a hearing to determine whether he was a prisoner of war under the Geneva convention must be taken place before he could be tried by a military commission. This decision was reversed by the D.C. Circuit Courts of Appeal on the premise that the Geneva Convention could not be enforced in federal court and that the establishment of military tribunals had been authorized by Congress and was therefore not unconstitutional.

    Issue. Did the congress or the inherent powers of the President authorize the military commission established to try enemy combatants for alleged war crimes in the War on Terror?
    (2). May the rights protected by the Geneva Convention be enforced in federal court through habeas corpus petitions?

    Held. No. The congress or the inherent powers of the President did not authorize the military commission established to try those deemed “enemy combatants†for alleged war crimes in the War on Terror. Absent that express authorization, the commission had to comply with the ordinary laws of the United States (D) and the laws of war.
    (2). Yes. The rights protected by the Geneva Convention may be enforced in federal court through habeas corpus petitions. As part of the ordinary laws of war, the Geneva Convention could be enforced by the U.S. Supreme Court along with the statutory Uniform Code of Military Justice (UCM) since the military commission was not authorized. The exclusion of Hamdan (P) from certain parts of his trials deemed classified by the military commission violated both of these and the trial was therefore illegal. Common Article 3 which provides minimal protection to individuals associated with neither a signatory nor a non-signatory “Power†who are involved in a conflict in the territory of a signatory is applicable here and requires that Hamdan (P) be tried by a “regularly constituted court affording all the judicial guarantees which are recognized as indispensable by civilized peoples.

    Discussion. Many U.S. and international human rights organizations have determined that violations might occur through the non-application of the Geneva Convention to detainees in the U.S. war on terrorism.


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