Hamdi v. Rumsfeld, 542 U.S. 507 (2004)

Case Name: Hamdi v. Rumsfeld
Citation: 542 U.S. 507 (2004)

Issue: What process is constitutionally due to a citizen who disputes his enemy-combatant status?

Key Facts: Citizen designated as an enemy combatant being held indefinitely at Guantanamo Bay. The habeas petition states only that “when seized by the United States Government, Mr. Hamdi resided in Afghanistan.” The Mathews calculus then contemplates a judicious balancing of these concerns, through an analysis of “the risk of an erroneous deprivation” of the private interest if the process were reduced and the “probable value, if any, of additional or substitute safeguards.”

  • “Enemy Combatant” – “part of or supporting forces hostile to the United States or coalition partners” in Afghanistan and who “engaged in an armed conflict against the United States” there.

Petitioner’s argument: Hamdi contends: 18.U.S.C 4001(a) No citizen shall be imprisoned or otherwise detained by the United States except pursuant to an Act of Congress.

Respondent’s argument: The Government contends: 4001(a) is satisfied because Hamdi is being detained “pursuant to an Act of Congress” [Authorization for Use of Military Force (AUMF)]. The Court said this was correct. 

Analysis:  “History and common sense teach us that an unchecked system of detention carries the potential to become a means for oppression and abuse of others who do not present that sort of threat…We necessarily reject the Government’s assertion that separation of powers principles mandate a heavily circumscribed role for the courts in such circumstances.”

Holding: A citizen-detainee seeking to challenge his classification as an enemy combatant must receive notice of the factual basis for his classification, and a fair opportunity to rebut the Government’s factual assertions before a neutral decision maker.

Decision 2: Concurring in part, dissenting in part, and concurring in the judgment. Disagreed that his detention is authorized by an Act of Congress (Authorization for Use of Military Force) to satisfy 4001(a). Believed Hamdi should be released.

Scalia’s dissent: It is beyond the Court’s compass to determine whether detention and interrogation, in order to meet the Government’s security needs, are sufficient. Therefore, it is up to Congress and the Executive (elected officials).

Thomas’ dissent: The Federal Government’s war power cannot be balanced by the Court. The detention of Hamdi does not violate the Constitution. In other words, the loss of one man’s liberty is a low cost for national security.