Hamdi v. Rumsfeld (2004)

Hamdi v. Rumsfeld

542 U. S. 507 (2004)

[Plurality: O’Connor, J., joined by Rehnquist, C.J., and Kennedy and Breyer, JJ. Concurring: Souter, J., in part, joined by Ginsburg, J. Dissenting: Souter, J., in part, joined by Ginsburg, J. Dissenting: Scalia, J., joined by Stevens, J.; Thomas, J.]

            Justice O’Connor announced the judgment of the Court.

At this difficult time in our Nation’s history, we are called upon to consider the legality of the Government’s detention of a United States citizen on United States soil as an “enemy combatant” and to address the process that is constitutionally owed to one who seeks to challenge his classification as such. The United States Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit held that petitioner’s detention was legally authorized and that he was entitled to no further opportunity to challenge his enemy-combatant label. We now vacate and remand. We hold that although Congress authorized the detention of combatants in the narrow circumstances alleged here, due process demands that a citizen held in the United States as an enemy combatant be given a meaningful opportunity to contest the factual basis for that detention before a neutral decisionmaker.

  1. On September 11, 2001, the al Qaeda terrorist network used hijacked commercial airliners to attack prominent targets in the United States. Approximately 3,000 people were killed in those attacks. One week later, in response to these “acts of treacherous violence,” Congress passed a resolution authorizing the President to “use all necessary and appropriate force against those nations, organizations, or persons he determines planned, authorized, committed, or aided the terrorist attacks” or “harbored such organizations or persons, in order to prevent any future acts of international terrorism against the United States by such nations, organizations or persons.” Authorization for Use of Military Force (“the AUMF”), 115 Stat. 224. Soon thereafter, the President ordered United States Armed Forces to Afghanistan, with a mission to subdue al Qaeda and quell the Taliban regime that was known to support it.

This case arises out of the detention of a man whom the Government alleges took up arms with the Taliban during this conflict. His name is Yaser Esam Hamdi. Born an American citizen in Louisiana in 1980, Hamdi moved with his family to Saudi Arabia as a child. By 2001, the parties agree, he resided in Afghanistan. At some point that year, he was seized by members of the Northern Alliance, a coalition of military groups opposed to the Taliban government, and eventually was turned over to the United States military. The Government asserts that it initially detained and interrogated Hamdi in Afghanistan before transferring him to the United States Naval Base in Guantanamo Bay in January 2002. In April 2002, upon learning that Hamdi is an American citizen, authorities transferred him to a naval brig in Norfolk, Virginia, where he remained until a recent transfer to a brig in Charleston, South Carolina. The Government contends that Hamdi is an “enemy combatant,” and that this status justifies holding him in the United States indefinitely — without formal charges or proceedings — unless and until it makes the determination that access to counsel or further process is warranted.

In June 2002, Hamdi’s father, Esam Fouad Hamdi, filed the present petition for a writ of habeas corpus under 28 U. S. C. § 2241 in the Eastern District of Virginia, naming as petitioners his son and himself as next friend. The elder Hamdi alleges in the petition that he has had no contact with his son since the Government took custody of him in 2001, and that the Government has held his son “without access to legal counsel or notice of any charges pending against him.” The petition contends that Hamdi’s detention was not legally authorized. It argues that, “[a]s an American citizen, . . . Hamdi enjoys the full protections of the Constitution,” and that Hamdi’s detention in the United States without charges, access to an impartial tribunal, or assistance of counsel “violated and continue[s] to violate the 5th and 14th Amendments to the United States Constitution.” The habeas petition asks that the court, among other things; (1) appoint counsel for Hamdi; (2) order respondents to cease interrogating him; (3) declare that he is being held in violation of the 5th and 14th Amendments; (4) “[t]o the extent Respondents contest any material factual allegations in this Petition, schedule an evidentiary hearing, at which Petitioners may adduce proof in support of their allegations”; and (5) order that Hamdi be released from his “unlawful custody.” Although his habeas petition provides no details with regard to the factual circumstances surrounding his son’s capture and detention, Hamdi’s father has asserted in documents found elsewhere in the record that his son went to Afghanistan to do “relief work,” and that he had been in that country less than two months before September 11, 2001, and could not have received military training. The 20-year-old was traveling on his own for the first time, his father says, and “[b]ecause of his lack of experience, he was trapped in Afghanistan once that military campaign began.”

The District Court found that Hamdi’s father was a proper next friend, appointed the federal public defender as counsel for the petitioners, and ordered that counsel be given access to Hamdi. The United States Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit reversed that order, holding that the District Court had failed to extend appropriate deference to the Government’s security and intelligence interests. It directed the District Court to consider “the most cautious procedures first,” and to conduct a deferential inquiry into Hamdi’s status. It opined that “if Hamdi is indeed an ‘enemy combatant’ who was captured during hostilities in Afghanistan, the government’s present detention of him is a lawful one.”

On remand, the Government filed a response and a motion to dismiss the petition. It attached to its response a declaration from one Michael Mobbs (hereinafter “Mobbs Declaration”), who identified himself as Special Advisor to the Under Secretary of Defense for Policy. . . .

Mobbs then set forth what remains the sole evidentiary support that the Government has provided to the courts for Hamdi’s detention. The declaration states that Hamdi “traveled to Afghanistan” in July or August 2001, and that he thereafter “affiliated with a Taliban military unit and received weapons training.” It asserts that Hamdi “remained with his Taliban unit following the attacks of September 11” and that, during the time when Northern Alliance forces were “engaged in battle with the Taliban,” “Hamdi’s Taliban unit surrendered” to those forces, after which he “surrender[ed] his Kalishnikov assault rifle” to them. The Mobbs Declaration also states that, because al Qaeda and the Taliban “were and are hostile forces engaged in armed conflict with the armed forces of the United States,” “individuals associated with” those groups “were and continue to be enemy combatants.” Mobbs states that Hamdi was labeled an enemy combatant “[b]ased upon his interviews and in light of his association with the Taliban.” According to the declaration, a series of “U. S. military screening team[s]” determined that Hamdi met “the criteria for enemy combatants,” and “a subsequent interview of Hamdi has confirmed that he surrendered and gave his firearm to Northern Alliance forces, which supports his classification as an enemy combatant.”

After the Government submitted this declaration, the Fourth Circuit directed the District Court to proceed in accordance with its earlier ruling and, specifically, to “consider the sufficiency of the Mobbs Declaration as an independent matter before proceeding further.” The District Court found that the Mobbs Declaration fell “far short” of supporting Hamdi’s detention. It criticized the generic and hearsay nature of the affidavit, calling it “little more than the government’s ‘say-so.'” It ordered the Government to turn over numerous materials for in camera review, including copies of all of Hamdi’s statements and the notes taken from interviews with him that related to his reasons for going to Afghanistan and his activities therein; a list of all interrogators who had questioned Hamdi and their names and addresses; statements by members of the Northern Alliance regarding Hamdi’s surrender and capture; a list of the dates and locations of his capture and subsequent detentions; and the names and titles of the United States Government officials who made the determinations that Hamdi was an enemy combatant and that he should be moved to a naval brig. The court indicated that all of these materials were necessary for “meaningful judicial review” of whether Hamdi’s detention was legally authorized and whether Hamdi had received sufficient process to satisfy the Due Process Clause of the Constitution and relevant treaties or military regulations.

The Government sought to appeal the production order, and the District Court certified the question of whether the Mobbs Declaration, “standing alone, is sufficient as a matter of law to allow meaningful judicial review of [Hamdi’s] classification as an enemy combatant.” The Fourth Circuit reversed, but did not squarely answer the certified question. It instead stressed that, because it was “undisputed that Hamdi was captured in a zone of active combat in a foreign theater of conflict,” no factual inquiry or evidentiary hearing allowing Hamdi to be heard or to rebut the Government’s assertions was necessary or proper. . . .

  1. The threshold question before us is whether the Executive has the authority to detain citizens who qualify as “enemy combatants.” There is some debate as to the proper scope of this term, and the Government has never provided any court with the full criteria that it uses in classifying individuals as such. It has made clear, however, that, for purposes of this case, the “enemy combatant” that it is seeking to detain is an individual who, it alleges, was “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. We therefore answer only the narrow question before us: whether the detention of citizens falling within that definition is authorized.

The Government maintains that no explicit congressional authorization is required, because the Executive possesses plenary authority to detain pursuant to Article II of the Constitution. We do not reach the question whether Article II provides such authority, however, because we agree with the Government’s alternative position, that Congress has in fact authorized Hamdi’s detention, through the AUMF.

Our analysis on that point, set forth below, substantially overlaps with our analysis of Hamdi’s principal argument for the illegality of his detention. He posits that his detention is forbidden by 18 U. S. C. § 4001(a). Section 4001(a) states that “[n]o citizen shall be imprisoned or otherwise detained by the United States except pursuant to an Act of Congress.” Congress passed § 4001(a) in 1971 as part of a bill to repeal the Emergency Detention Act of 1950, which provided procedures for executive detention, during times of emergency, of individuals deemed likely to engage in espionage or sabotage. Congress was particularly concerned about the possibility that the Act could be used to reprise the Japanese internment camps of World War II. The Government again presses two alternative positions. First, it argues that § 4001(a), in light of its legislative history and its location in Title 18, applies only to “the control of civilian prisons and related detentions,” not to military detentions. Second, it maintains that § 4001(a) is satisfied, because Hamdi is being detained “pursuant to an Act of Congress” — the AUMF. Id. Again, because we conclude that the Government’s second assertion is correct, we do not address the first. In other words, for the reasons that follow, we conclude that the AUMF is explicit congressional authorization for the detention of individuals in the narrow category we describe (assuming, without deciding, that such authorization is required), and that the AUMF satisfied § 4001(a)’s requirement that a detention be “pursuant to an Act of Congress” (assuming, without deciding, that § 4001(a) applies to military detentions).

The AUMF authorizes the President to use “all necessary and appropriate force” against “nations, organizations, or persons” associated with the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks. 115 Stat. 224. There can be no doubt that individuals who fought against the United States in Afghanistan as part of the Taliban, an organization known to have supported the al Qaeda terrorist network responsible for those attacks, are individuals Congress sought to target in passing the AUMF. We conclude that detention of individuals falling into the limited category we are considering, for the duration of the particular conflict in which they were captured, is so fundamental and accepted an incident to war as to be an exercise of the “necessary and appropriate force” Congress has authorized the President to use.

The capture and detention of lawful combatants and the capture, detention, and trial of unlawful combatants, by “universal agreement and practice,” are “important incident[s] of war.” Ex parte Quirin (1942). The purpose of detention is to prevent captured individuals from returning to the field of battle and taking up arms once again. . . .

There is no bar to this Nation’s holding one of its own citizens as an enemy combatant. In Quirin, one of the detainees, Haupt, alleged that he was a naturalized United States citizen. We held that “[c]itizens who associate themselves with the military arm of the enemy government, and with its aid, guidance and direction enter this country bent on hostile acts, are enemy belligerents within the meaning of . . . the law of war.” While Haupt was tried for violations of the law of war, nothing in Quirin suggests that his citizenship would have precluded his mere detention for the duration of the relevant hostilities. . . .

In light of these principles, it is of no moment that the AUMF does not use specific language of detention. Because detention to prevent a combatant’s return to the battlefield is a fundamental incident of waging war, in permitting the use of “necessary and appropriate force,” Congress has clearly and unmistakably authorized detention in the narrow circumstances considered here.

Hamdi objects, nevertheless, that Congress has not authorized the indefinite detention to which he is now subject. The Government responds that “the detention of enemy combatants during World War II was just as ‘indefinite’ while that war was being fought.” We take Hamdi’s objection to be not to the lack of certainty regarding the date on which the conflict will end, but to the substantial prospect of perpetual detention. We recognize that the national security underpinnings of the “war on terror,” although crucially important, are broad and malleable. As the Government concedes, “given its unconventional nature, the current conflict is unlikely to end with a formal ceasefire agreement.” The prospect Hamdi raises is therefore not farfetched. If the Government does not consider this unconventional war won for two generations, and if it maintains during that time that Hamdi might, if released, rejoin forces fighting against the United States, then the position it has taken throughout the litigation of this case suggests that Hamdi’s detention could last for the rest of his life. . . .

Hamdi contends that the AUMF does not authorize indefinite or perpetual detention. Certainly, we agree that indefinite detention for the purpose of interrogation is not authorized. Further, we understand Congress’ grant of authority for the use of “necessary and appropriate force” to include the authority to detain for the duration of the relevant conflict, and our understanding is based on longstanding law-of-war principles. If the practical circumstances of a given conflict are entirely unlike those of the conflicts that informed the development of the law of war, that understanding may unravel. But that is not the situation we face as of this date. Active combat operations against Taliban fighters apparently are ongoing in Afghanistan [involving 20,000 United States troops]. . . . The United States may detain, for the duration of these hostilities, individuals legitimately determined to be Taliban combatants who “engaged in an armed conflict against the United States.” If the record establishes that United States troops are still involved in active combat in Afghanistan, those detentions are part of the exercise of “necessary and appropriate force,” and therefore are authorized by the AUMF.

Ex parte Milligan (1866) does not undermine our holding about the Government’s authority to seize enemy combatants, as we define that term today. In that case, the Court made repeated reference to the fact that its inquiry into whether the military tribunal had jurisdiction to try and punish Milligan turned in large part on the fact that Milligan was not a prisoner of war, but a resident of Indiana arrested while at home there. That fact was central to its conclusion. Had Milligan been captured while he was assisting Confederate soldiers by carrying a rifle against Union troops on a Confederate battlefield, the holding of the Court might well have been different. The Court’s repeated explanations that Milligan was not a prisoner of war suggest that had these different circumstances been present he could have been detained under military authority for the duration of the conflict, whether or not he was a citizen. . . .

To the extent that Justice Scalia accepts the precedential value of Quirin, he argues that it cannot guide our inquiry here because “[i]n Quirin it was uncontested that the petitioners were members of enemy forces,” while Hamdi challenges his classification as an enemy combatant. But it is unclear why, in the paradigm outlined by Justice Scalia, such a concession should have any relevance. Justice Scalia envisions a system in which the only options are congressional suspension of the writ of habeas corpus or prosecution for treason or some other crime. He does not explain how his historical analysis supports the addition of a third option — detention under some other process after concession of enemy-combatant status — or why a concession should carry any different effect than proof of enemy-combatant status in a proceeding that comports with due process. To be clear, our opinion only finds legislative authority to detain under the AUMF once it is sufficiently clear that the individual is, in fact, an enemy combatant; whether that is established by concession or by some other process that verifies this fact with sufficient certainty seems beside the point.

Further, Justice Scalia largely ignores the context of this case: a United States citizen captured in a foreign combat zone. . . .

III. Even in cases in which the detention of enemy combatants is legally authorized, there remains the question of what process is constitutionally due to a citizen who disputes his enemy-combatant status. Hamdi argues that he is owed a meaningful and timely hearing and that “extrajudicial detention [that] begins and ends with the submission of an affidavit based on third-hand hearsay” does not comport with the 5th and 14th Amendments. The Government counters that any more process than was provided below would be both unworkable and “constitutionally intolerable.” Our resolution of this dispute requires a careful examination both of the writ of habeas corpus, which Hamdi now seeks to employ as a mechanism of judicial review, and of the Due Process Clause, which informs the procedural contours of that mechanism in this instance. . . .

III-B. First, the Government urges the adoption of the Fourth Circuit’s holding below — that because it is “undisputed” that Hamdi’s seizure took place in a combat zone, the habeas determination can be made purely as a matter of law, with no further hearing or factfinding necessary. This argument is easily rejected. As the dissenters from the denial of rehearing en banc noted, the circumstances surrounding Hamdi’s seizure cannot in any way be characterized as “undisputed,” as “those circumstances are neither conceded in fact, nor susceptible to concession in law, because Hamdi has not been permitted to speak for himself or even through counsel as to those circumstances.” Further, the “facts” that constitute the alleged concession are insufficient to support Hamdi’s detention. Under the definition of enemy combatant that we accept today as falling within the scope of Congress’ authorization, Hamdi would need to be “part of or supporting forces hostile to the United States or coalition partners” and “engaged in an armed conflict against the United States” to justify his detention in the United States for the duration of the relevant conflict. The habeas petition states only that “[w]hen seized by the United States Government, Mr. Hamdi resided in Afghanistan.” An assertion that one resided in a country in which combat operations are taking place is not a concession that one was “captured in a zone of active combat operations in a foreign theater of war,” and certainly is not a concession that one was “part of or supporting forces hostile to the United States or coalition partners” and “engaged in an armed conflict against the United States.” Accordingly, we reject any argument that Hamdi has made concessions that eliminate any right to further process.

III-C. The Government’s second argument requires closer consideration. This is the argument that further factual exploration is unwarranted and inappropriate in light of the extraordinary constitutional interests at stake. Under the Government’s most extreme rendition of this argument, “[r]espect for separation of powers and the limited institutional capabilities of courts in matters of military decision-making in connection with an ongoing conflict” ought to eliminate entirely any individual process, restricting the courts to investigating only whether legal authorization exists for the broader detention scheme. At most, the Government argues, courts should review its determination that a citizen is an enemy combatant under a very deferential “some evidence” standard. Under this review, a court would assume the accuracy of the Government’s articulated basis for Hamdi’s detention, as set forth in the Mobbs Declaration, and assess only whether that articulated basis was a legitimate one.

In response, Hamdi emphasizes that this Court consistently has recognized that an individual challenging his detention may not be held at the will of the Executive without recourse to some proceeding before a neutral tribunal to determine whether the Executive’s asserted justifications for that detention have basis in fact and warrant in law. He argues that the Fourth Circuit inappropriately “ceded power to the Executive during wartime to define the conduct for which a citizen may be detained, judge whether that citizen has engaged in the proscribed conduct, and imprison that citizen indefinitely,” and that due process demands that he receive a hearing in which he may challenge the Mobbs Declaration and adduce his own counter evidence. The District Court, agreeing with Hamdi, apparently believed that the appropriate process would approach the process that accompanies a criminal trial. It therefore disapproved of the hearsay nature of the Mobbs Declaration and anticipated quite extensive discovery of various military affairs. Anything less, it concluded, would not be “meaningful judicial review.”

Both of these positions highlight legitimate concerns. And both emphasize the tension that often exists between the autonomy that the Government asserts is necessary in order to pursue effectively a particular goal and the process that a citizen contends he is due before he is deprived of a constitutional right. The ordinary mechanism that we use for balancing such serious competing interests, and for determining the procedures that are necessary to ensure that a citizen is not “deprived of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law,” is the test that we articulated in Mathews v. Eldridge (1976). Mathews dictates that the process due in any given instance is determined by weighing “the private interest that will be affected by the official action” against the Government’s asserted interest, “including the function involved” and the burdens the Government would face in providing greater process. 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.” We take each of these steps in turn.

III-C-1. It is beyond question that substantial interests lie on both sides of the scale in this case. Hamdi’s “private interest . . . affected by the official action,” is the most elemental of liberty interests — the interest in being free from physical detention by one’s own government. Foucha v. Louisiana (1992) (“Freedom from bodily restraint has always been at the core of the liberty protected by the Due Process Clause from arbitrary governmental action”). “In our society liberty is the norm,” and detention without trial “is the carefully limited exception.” United States v. Salerno (1987). “We have always been careful not to ‘minimize the importance and fundamental nature’ of the individual’s right to liberty,” Foucha, and we will not do so today.

Nor is the weight on this side of the Mathews scale offset by the circumstances of war or the accusation of treasonous behavior, for “[i]t is clear that commitment for any purpose constitutes a significant deprivation of liberty that requires due process protection,” Jones v. United States (1983), and at this stage in the Mathews calculus, we consider the interest of the erroneously detained individual. Carey v. Piphus (1978) (“Procedural due process rules are meant to protect persons not from the deprivation, but from the mistaken or unjustified deprivation of life, liberty, or property”); see also id. (noting “the importance to organized society that procedural due process be observed,” and emphasizing that “the right to procedural due process is ‘absolute’ in the sense that it does not depend upon the merits of a claimant’s substantive assertions”). Indeed, as amicus briefs from media and relief organizations emphasize, the risk of erroneous deprivation of a citizen’s liberty in the absence of sufficient process here is very real (“[t]he nature of humanitarian relief work and journalism present a significant risk of mistaken military detentions”). Moreover, as critical as the Government’s interest may be in detaining those who actually pose an immediate threat to the national security of the United States during ongoing international conflict, 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. Because we live in a society in which “[m]ere public intolerance or animosity cannot constitutionally justify the deprivation of a person’s physical liberty,” O’Connor v. Donaldson (1975), our starting point for the Mathews analysis is unaltered by the allegations surrounding the particular detainee or the organizations with which he is alleged to have associated. We reaffirm today the fundamental nature of a citizen’s right to be free from involuntary confinement by his own government without due process of law, and we weigh the opposing governmental interests against the curtailment of liberty that such confinement entails.

III-C-2. On the other side of the scale are the weighty and sensitive governmental interests in ensuring that those who have in fact fought with the enemy during a war do not return to battle against the United States. As discussed above, the law of war and the realities of combat may render such detentions both necessary and appropriate, and our due process analysis need not blink at those realities. Without doubt, our Constitution recognizes that core strategic matters of warmaking belong in the hands of those who are best positioned and most politically accountable for making them. Department of Navy v. Egan (1988) (noting the reluctance of the courts “to intrude upon the authority of the Executive in military and national security affairs”); Youngstown Sheet & Tube Co. v. Sawyer (1952) (acknowledging “broad powers in military commanders engaged in day-to-day fighting in a theater of war”).

The Government also argues at some length that its interests in reducing the process available to alleged enemy combatants are heightened by the practical difficulties that would accompany a system of trial-like process. In its view, military officers who are engaged in the serious work of waging battle would be unnecessarily and dangerously distracted by litigation half a world away, and discovery into military operations would both intrude on the sensitive secrets of national defense and result in a futile search for evidence buried under the rubble of war. To the extent that these burdens are triggered by heightened procedures, they are properly taken into account in our due process analysis.

III-C-3. Striking the proper constitutional balance here is of great importance to the Nation during this period of ongoing combat. But it is equally vital that our calculus not give short shrift to the values that this country holds dear or to the privilege that is American citizenship. It is during our most challenging and uncertain moments that our Nation’s commitment to due process is most severely tested; and it is in those times that we must preserve our commitment at home to the principles for which we fight abroad. See Kennedy v. Mendoza-Martinez (1963) (“The imperative necessity for safeguarding these rights to procedural due process under the gravest of emergencies has existed throughout our constitutional history, for it is then, under the pressing exigencies of crisis, that there is the greatest temptation to dispense with guarantees which, it is feared, will inhibit government action”); see also United States v. Robel (1967) (“It would indeed be ironic if, in the name of national defense, we would sanction the subversion of one of those liberties . . . which makes the defense of the Nation worthwhile”).

With due recognition of these competing concerns, we believe that neither the process proposed by the Government nor the process apparently envisioned by the District Court below strikes the proper constitutional balance when a United States citizen is detained in the United States as an enemy combatant. That is, “the risk of erroneous deprivation” of a detainee’s liberty interest is unacceptably high under the Government’s proposed rule, while some of the “additional or substitute procedural safeguards” suggested by the District Court are unwarranted in light of their limited “probable value” and the burdens they may impose on the military in such cases. Mathews.

We therefore hold that 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 decisionmaker. “For more than a century the central meaning of procedural due process has been clear: ‘Parties whose rights are to be affected are entitled to be heard; and in order that they may enjoy that right they must first be notified.’ It is equally fundamental that the right to notice and an opportunity to be heard ‘must be granted at a meaningful time and in a meaningful manner.'” Fuentes v. Shevin (1972). These essential constitutional promises may not be eroded.

At the same time, the exigencies of the circumstances may demand that, aside from these core elements, enemy combatant proceedings may be tailored to alleviate their uncommon potential to burden the Executive at a time of ongoing military conflict. Hearsay, for example, may need to be accepted as the most reliable available evidence from the Government in such a proceeding. Likewise, the Constitution would not be offended by a presumption in favor of the Government’s evidence, so long as that presumption remained a rebuttable one and fair opportunity for rebuttal were provided. Thus, once the Government puts forth credible evidence that the habeas petitioner meets the enemy-combatant criteria, the onus could shift to the petitioner to rebut that evidence with more persuasive evidence that he falls outside the criteria. A burden-shifting scheme of this sort would meet the goal of ensuring that the errant tourist, embedded journalist, or local aid worker has a chance to prove military error while giving due regard to the Executive once it has put forth meaningful support for its conclusion that the detainee is in fact an enemy combatant. In the words of Mathews, process of this sort would sufficiently address the “risk of erroneous deprivation” of a detainee’s liberty interest while eliminating certain procedures that have questionable additional value in light of the burden on the Government.[1]

We think it unlikely that this basic process will have the dire impact on the central functions of warmaking that the Government forecasts. The parties agree that initial captures on the battlefield need not receive the process we have discussed here; that process is due only when the determination is made to continue to hold those who have been seized. . . . Likewise, arguments that military officers ought not have to wage war under the threat of litigation lose much of their steam when factual disputes at enemy-combatant hearings are limited to the alleged combatant’s acts. This focus meddles little, if at all, in the strategy or conduct of war, inquiring only into the appropriateness of continuing to detain an individual claimed to have taken up arms against the United States. While we accord the greatest respect and consideration to the judgments of military authorities in matters relating to the actual prosecution of a war, and recognize that the scope of that discretion necessarily is wide, it does not infringe on the core role of the military for the courts to exercise their own time-honored and constitutionally mandated roles of reviewing and resolving claims like those presented here.

In sum, while the full protections that accompany challenges to detentions in other settings may prove unworkable and inappropriate in the enemy-combatant setting, the threats to military operations posed by a basic system of independent review are not so weighty as to trump a citizen’s core rights to challenge meaningfully the Government’s case and to be heard by an impartial adjudicator.

III-D. In so holding, we necessarily reject the Government’s assertion that separation of powers principles mandate a heavily circumscribed role for the courts in such circumstances. Indeed, the position that the courts must forgo any examination of the individual case and focus exclusively on the legality of the broader detention scheme cannot be mandated by any reasonable view of separation of powers, as this approach serves only to condense power into a single branch of government. We have long since made clear that a state of war is not a blank check for the President when it comes to the rights of the Nation’s citizens. Whatever power the United States Constitution envisions for the Executive in its exchanges with other nations or with enemy organizations in times of conflict, it most assuredly envisions a role for all three branches when individual liberties are at stake. Mistretta v. United States (1989) (it was “the central judgment of the Framers of the Constitution that, within our political scheme, the separation of governmental powers into three coordinate Branches is essential to the preservation of liberty”); Home Building & Loan Assn. v. Blaisdell (1934) (The war power “is a power to wage war successfully, and thus it permits the harnessing of the entire energies of the people in a supreme cooperative effort to preserve the nation. But even the war power does not remove constitutional limitations safeguarding essential liberties”). Likewise, we have made clear that, unless Congress acts to suspend it, the Great Writ of habeas corpus allows the Judicial Branch to play a necessary role in maintaining this delicate balance of governance, serving as an important judicial check on the Executive’s discretion in the realm of detentions. Thus, while we do not question that our due process assessment must pay keen attention to the particular burdens faced by the Executive in the context of military action, it would turn our system of checks and balances on its head to suggest that a citizen could not make his way to court with a challenge to the factual basis for his detention by his government, simply because the Executive opposes making available such a challenge. Absent suspension of the writ by Congress, a citizen detained as an enemy combatant is entitled to this process.

Because we conclude that due process demands some system for a citizen detainee to refute his classification, the proposed “some evidence” standard is inadequate. Any process in which the Executive’s factual assertions go wholly unchallenged or are simply presumed correct without any opportunity for the alleged combatant to demonstrate otherwise falls constitutionally short. . . .

Aside from unspecified “screening” processes and military interrogations in which the Government suggests Hamdi could have contested his classification, Hamdi has received no process. An interrogation by one’s captor, however effective an intelligence-gathering tool, hardly constitutes a constitutionally adequate factfinding before a neutral decisionmaker. . . .

There remains the possibility that the standards we have articulated could be met by an appropriately authorized and properly constituted military tribunal. Indeed, it is notable that military regulations already provide for such process in related instances, dictating that tribunals be made available to determine the status of enemy detainees who assert prisoner-of-war status under the Geneva Convention. In the absence of such process, however, a court that receives a petition for a writ of habeas corpus from an alleged enemy combatant must itself ensure that the minimum requirements of due process are achieved. . . .

  1. Hamdi asks us to hold that the Fourth Circuit also erred by denying him immediate access to counsel upon his detention and by disposing of the case without permitting him to meet with an attorney. Since our grant of certiorari in this case, Hamdi has been appointed counsel, with whom he has met for consultation purposes on several occasions, and with whom he is now being granted unmonitored meetings. He unquestionably has the right to access to counsel in connection with the proceedings on remand. No further consideration of this issue is necessary at this stage of the case.

The . . . case is remanded for further proceedings.

It is so ordered.

Justice Souter, with whom Justice Ginsburg joins, concurring in part, dissenting in part, and concurring in the judgment.

According to Yaser Hamdi’s petition for writ of habeas corpus, brought on his behalf by his father, the Government of the United States is detaining him, an American citizen on American soil, with the explanation that he was seized on the field of battle in Afghanistan, having been on the enemy side. It is undisputed that the Government has not charged him with espionage, treason, or any other crime under domestic law. It is likewise undisputed that for one year and nine months, on the basis of an Executive designation of Hamdi as an “enemy combatant,” the Government denied him the right to send or receive any communication beyond the prison where he was held and, in particular, denied him access to counsel to represent him. The Government asserts a right to hold Hamdi under these conditions indefinitely, that is, until the Government determines that the United States is no longer threatened by the terrorism exemplified in the attacks of September 11, 2001. . . .

The Government responds that Hamdi’s incommunicado imprisonment as an enemy combatant seized on the field of battle falls within the President’s power as Commander in Chief under the laws and usages of war, and is in any event authorized by two statutes. Accordingly, the Government contends that Hamdi has no basis for any challenge by petition for habeas except to his own status as an enemy combatant; and even that challenge may go no further than to enquire whether “some evidence” supports Hamdi’s designation; if there is “some evidence,” Hamdi should remain locked up at the discretion of the Executive. At the argument of this case, in fact, the Government went further and suggested that as long as a prisoner could challenge his enemy combatant designation when responding to interrogation during incommunicado detention he was accorded sufficient process to support his designation as an enemy combatant. . . .

The plurality rejects any such limit on the exercise of habeas jurisdiction and so far I agree with its opinion. The plurality does, however, accept the Government’s position that if Hamdi’s designation as an enemy combatant is correct, his detention (at least as to some period) is authorized by an Act of Congress as required by § 4001(a), that is, by the Authorization for Use of Military Force. Here, I disagree and respectfully dissent. The Government has failed to demonstrate that the Force Resolution authorizes the detention complained of here even on the facts the Government claims. If the Government raises nothing further than the record now shows, the Non-Detention Act entitles Hamdi to be released. . . .

Justice Scalia, with whom Justice Stevens joins, dissenting.

Petitioner Yaser Hamdi, a presumed American citizen, has been imprisoned without charge or hearing in the Norfolk and Charleston Naval Brigs for more than two years, on the allegation that he is an enemy combatant who bore arms against his country for the Taliban. His father claims to the contrary, that he is an inexperienced aid worker caught in the wrong place at the wrong time. This case brings into conflict the competing demands of national security and our citizens’ constitutional right to personal liberty. Although I share the Court’s evident unease as it seeks to reconcile the two, I do not agree with its resolution.

Where the Government accuses a citizen of waging war against it, our constitutional tradition has been to prosecute him in federal court for treason or some other crime. Where the exigencies of war prevent that, the Constitution’s Suspension Clause, Art. I, § 9, cl. 2, allows Congress to relax the usual protections temporarily. Absent suspension, however, the Executive’s assertion of military exigency has not been thought sufficient to permit detention without charge. No one contends that the congressional Authorization for Use of Military Force, on which the Government relies to justify its actions here, is an implementation of the Suspension Clause. Accordingly, I would reverse the decision below.

  1. The very core of liberty secured by our Anglo-Saxon system of separated powers has been freedom from indefinite imprisonment at the will of the Executive. Blackstone stated this principle clearly:

Of great importance to the public is the preservation of this personal liberty: for if once it were left in the power of any, the highest, magistrate to imprison arbitrarily whomever he or his officers thought proper . . . there would soon be an end of all other rights and immunities. . . . To bereave a man of life, or by violence to confiscate his estate, without accusation or trial, would be so gross and notorious an act of despotism, as must at once convey the alarm of tyranny throughout the whole kingdom. But confinement of the person, by secretly hurrying him to gaol, where his sufferings are unknown or forgotten; is a less public, a less striking, and therefore a more dangerous engine of arbitrary government . . . .

To make imprisonment lawful, it must either be, by process from the courts of judicature, or by warrant from some legal officer, having authority to commit to prison; which warrant must be in writing, under the hand and seal of the magistrate, and express the causes of the commitment, in order to be examined into (if necessary) upon a habeas corpus. If there be no cause expressed, the gaoler is not bound to detain the prisoner. For the law judges in this respect . . . that it is unreasonable to send a prisoner, and not to signify withal the crimes alleged against him. 1 W. Blackstone, Commentaries on the Laws of England 132–133 (1765) (hereinafter Blackstone).

These words were well known to the Founders. Hamilton quoted from this very passage in The Federalist No. 84. The two ideas central to Blackstone’s understanding — due process as the right secured, and habeas corpus as the instrument by which due process could be insisted upon by a citizen illegally imprisoned — found expression in the Constitution’s Due Process and Suspension Clauses.

The gist of the Due Process Clause, as understood at the founding and since, was to force the Government to follow those common law procedures traditionally deemed necessary before depriving a person of life, liberty, or property. When a citizen was deprived of liberty because of alleged criminal conduct, those procedures typically required committal by a magistrate followed by indictment and trial. The Due Process Clause “in effect affirms the right of trial according to the process and proceedings of the common law.”

To be sure, certain types of permissible noncriminal detention — that is, those not dependent upon the contention that the citizen had committed a criminal act — did not require the protections of criminal procedure. However, these fell into a limited number of well-recognized exceptions — civil commitment of the mentally ill, for example, and temporary detention in quarantine of the infectious. It is unthinkable that the Executive could render otherwise criminal grounds for detention noncriminal merely by disclaiming an intent to prosecute, or by asserting that it was incapacitating dangerous offenders rather than punishing wrongdoing.

These due process rights have historically been vindicated by the writ of habeas corpus. In England before the founding, the writ developed into a tool for challenging executive confinement. It was not always effective. For example, in Darnel’s Case (K. B. 1627), King Charles I detained without charge several individuals for failing to assist England’s war against France and Spain. The prisoners sought writs of habeas corpus, arguing that without specific charges, “imprisonment shall not continue on for a time, but for ever; and the subjects of this kingdom may be restrained of their liberties perpetually.” The Attorney General replied that the Crown’s interest in protecting the realm justified imprisonment in “a matter of state . . . not ripe nor timely” for the ordinary process of accusation and trial. The court denied relief, producing widespread outrage, and Parliament responded with the Petition of Right, accepted by the King in 1628, which expressly prohibited imprisonment without formal charges.

The struggle between subject and Crown continued, and culminated in the Habeas Corpus Act of 1679, described by Blackstone as a “second magna charta, and stable bulwark of our liberties.” The Act governed all persons “committed or detained . . . for any crime.” In cases other than felony or treason plainly expressed in the warrant of commitment, the Act required release upon appropriate sureties (unless the commitment was for a nonbailable offense). Where the commitment was for felony or high treason, the Act did not require immediate release, but instead required the Crown to commence criminal proceedings within a specified time. If the prisoner was not “indicted some Time in the next Term,” the judge was “required . . . to set at Liberty the Prisoner upon Bail” unless the King was unable to produce his witnesses. Able or no, if the prisoner was not brought to trial by the next succeeding term, the Act provided that “he shall be discharged from his Imprisonment.” English courts sat four terms per year, so the practical effect of this provision was that imprisonment without indictment or trial for felony or high treason would not exceed approximately three to six months.

The writ of habeas corpus was preserved in the Constitution — the only common law writ to be explicitly mentioned. Hamilton lauded “the establishment of the writ of habeas corpus” in his Federalist defense as a means to protect against “the practice of arbitrary imprisonments . . . in all ages, [one of] the favourite and most formidable instruments of tyranny.” The Federalist No. 84. Indeed, availability of the writ under the new Constitution (along with the requirement of trial by jury in criminal cases, see Art. III, § 2, cl. 3) was his basis for arguing that additional, explicit procedural protections were unnecessary.

  1. . . . The relevant question, then, is whether there is a different, special procedure for imprisonment of a citizen accused of wrongdoing by aiding the enemy in wartime.

II-A. Justice O’Connor, writing for a plurality of this Court, asserts that captured enemy combatants (other than those suspected of war crimes) have traditionally been detained until the cessation of hostilities and then released. That is probably an accurate description of wartime practice with respect to enemy aliens. The tradition with respect to American citizens, however, has been quite different. Citizens aiding the enemy have been treated as traitors subject to the criminal process.

As early as 1350, England’s Statute of Treasons made it a crime to “levy War against our Lord the King in his Realm, or be adherent to the King’s Enemies in his Realm, giving to them Aid and Comfort, in the Realm, or elsewhere.” . . .

Subjects accused of levying war against the King were routinely prosecuted for treason. The Founders inherited the understanding that a citizen’s levying war against the Government was to be punished criminally. The Constitution provides: “Treason against the United States, shall consist only in levying War against them, or in adhering to their Enemies, giving them Aid and Comfort”; and establishes a heightened proof requirement (two witnesses) in order to “convic[t]” of that offense. Art. III, § 3, cl. 1.

In more recent times, too, citizens have been charged and tried in Article III courts for acts of war against the United States, even when their noncitizen co-conspirators were not. For example, two American citizens alleged to have participated during World War I in a spying conspiracy on behalf of Germany were tried in federal court. . . .

II-B. There are times when military exigency renders resort to the traditional criminal process impracticable. English law accommodated such exigencies by allowing legislative suspension of the writ of habeas corpus for brief periods. Blackstone explained:

And yet sometimes, when the state is in real danger, even this [i.e., executive detention] may be a necessary measure. But the happiness of our constitution is, that it is not left to the executive power to determine when the danger of the state is so great, as to render this measure expedient. For the parliament only, or legislative power, whenever it sees proper, can authorize the crown, by suspending the habeas corpus act for a short and limited time, to imprison suspected persons without giving any reason for so doing. . . . In like manner this experiment ought only to be tried in case of extreme emergency; and in these the nation parts with it[s] liberty for a while, in order to preserve it for ever. 1 Blackstone 132.

Where the Executive has not pursued the usual course of charge, committal, and conviction, it has historically secured the Legislature’s explicit approval of a suspension. . . .

Our Federal Constitution contains a provision explicitly permitting suspension, but limiting the situations in which it may be invoked: “The privilege of the Writ of Habeas Corpus shall not be suspended, unless when in Cases of Rebellion or Invasion the public Safety may require it.” Although this provision does not state that suspension must be effected by, or authorized by, a legislative act, it has been so understood, consistent with English practice and the Clause’s placement in Article I.

The Suspension Clause was by design a safety valve, the Constitution’s only “express provision for exercise of extraordinary authority because of a crisis,” Youngstown Sheet & Tube v. Sawyer (1952). Very early in the Nation’s history, President Jefferson unsuccessfully sought a suspension of habeas corpus to deal with Aaron Burr’s conspiracy to overthrow the Government. During the Civil War, Congress passed its first Act authorizing Executive suspension of the writ of habeas corpus, see Act of Mar. 3, 1863, 12 Stat. 755, to the relief of those many who thought President Lincoln’s unauthorized proclamations of suspension (e.g., Proclamation No. 1, 13 Stat. 730 (1862)) unconstitutional. Later Presidential proclamations of suspension relied upon the congressional authorization, e.g., Proclamation No. 7, 13 Stat. 734 (1863). During Reconstruction, Congress passed the Ku Klux Klan Act, which included a provision authorizing suspension of the writ, invoked by President Grant in quelling a rebellion in nine South Carolina counties. . . .

III. . . . Even if suspension of the writ on the one hand, and committal for criminal charges on the other hand, have been the only traditional means of dealing with citizens who levied war against their own country, it is theoretically possible that the Constitution does not require a choice between these alternatives.

I believe, however, that substantial evidence does refute that possibility. First, the text of the 1679 Habeas Corpus Act makes clear that indefinite imprisonment on reasonable suspicion is not an available option of treatment for those accused of aiding the enemy, absent a suspension of the writ. In the United States, this Act was read as “enforc[ing] the common law,” Ex parte Watkins (1830), and shaped the early understanding of the scope of the writ. As noted above, § 7 of the Act specifically addressed those committed for high treason, and provided a remedy if they were not indicted and tried by the second succeeding court term. . . .

Writings from the founding generation also suggest that, without exception, the only constitutional alternatives are to charge the crime or suspend the writ. . . .

President Lincoln, when he purported to suspend habeas corpus without congressional authorization during the Civil War, apparently did not doubt that suspension was required if the prisoner was to be held without criminal trial. In his famous message to Congress on July 4, 1861, he argued only that he could suspend the writ, not that even without suspension, his imprisonment of citizens without criminal trial was permitted.

Further evidence comes from this Court’s decision in Ex parte Milligan (1866). There, the Court issued the writ to an American citizen who had been tried by military commission for offenses that included conspiring to overthrow the Government, seize munitions, and liberate prisoners of war. The Court rejected in no uncertain terms the Government’s assertion that military jurisdiction was proper “under the ‘laws and usages of war:'”

It can serve no useful purpose to inquire what those laws and usages are, whence they originated, where found, and on whom they operate; they can never be applied to citizens in states which have upheld the authority of the government, and where the courts are open and their process unobstructed.[2]

Milligan is not exactly this case, of course, since the petitioner was threatened with death, not merely imprisonment. But the reasoning and conclusion of Milligan logically cover the present case. The Government justifies imprisonment of Hamdi on principles of the law of war and admits that, absent the war, it would have no such authority. But if the law of war cannot be applied to citizens where courts are open, then Hamdi’s imprisonment without criminal trial is no less unlawful than Milligan’s trial by military tribunal.

Milligan responded to the argument, repeated by the Government in this case, that it is dangerous to leave suspected traitors at large in time of war:

If it was dangerous, in the distracted condition of affairs, to leave Milligan unrestrained of his liberty, because he ‘conspired against the government, afforded aid and comfort to rebels, and incited the people to insurrection,’ the law said arrest him, confine him closely, render him powerless to do further mischief; and then present his case to the grand jury of the district, with proofs of his guilt, and, if indicted, try him according to the course of the common law. If this had been done, the Constitution would have been vindicated, the law of 1863 enforced, and the securities for personal liberty preserved and defended.

Thus, criminal process was viewed as the primary means — and the only means absent congressional action suspending the writ — not only to punish traitors, but to incapacitate them.

The proposition that the Executive lacks indefinite wartime detention authority over citizens is consistent with the Founders’ general mistrust of military power permanently at the Executive’s disposal. In the Founders’ view, the “blessings of liberty” were threatened by “those military establishments which must gradually poison its very fountain.” The Federalist No. 45 (J. Madison). No fewer than 10 issues of The Federalist were devoted in whole or part to allaying fears of oppression from the proposed Constitution’s authorization of standing armies in peacetime. . . .

  1. The Government argues that our more recent jurisprudence ratifies its indefinite imprisonment of a citizen within the territorial jurisdiction of federal courts. It places primary reliance upon Ex parte Quirin (1942), a World War II case upholding the trial by military commission of eight German saboteurs, one of whom, Hans Haupt, was a U. S. citizen. The case was not this Court’s finest hour. . . .

But even if Quirin gave a correct description of Milligan, or made an irrevocable revision of it, Quirin would still not justify denial of the writ here. In Quirin it was uncontested that the petitioners were members of enemy forces. They were “admitted enemy invaders,” and it was “undisputed” that they had landed in the United States in service of German forces. The specific holding of the Court was only that, “upon the conceded facts,” the petitioners were “plainly within [the] boundaries” of military jurisdiction. But where those jurisdictional facts are not conceded — where the petitioner insists that he is not a belligerent — Quirin left the pre-existing law in place: Absent suspension of the writ, a citizen held where the courts are open is entitled either to criminal trial or to a judicial decree requiring his release.

  1. It follows from what I have said that Hamdi is entitled to a habeas decree requiring his release unless (1) criminal proceedings are promptly brought, or (2) Congress has suspended the writ of habeas corpus. A suspension of the writ could, of course, lay down conditions for continued detention, similar to those that today’s opinion prescribes under the Due Process Clause. But there is a world of difference between the people’s representatives’ determining the need for that suspension (and prescribing the conditions for it), and this Court’s doing so.

The plurality finds justification for Hamdi’s imprisonment in the Authorization for Use of Military Force, which provides:

That the President is authorized to use all necessary and appropriate force against those nations, organizations, or persons he determines planned, authorized, committed, or aided the terrorist attacks that occurred on September 11, 2001, or harbored such organizations or persons, in order to prevent any future acts of international terrorism against the United States by such nations, organizations or persons. § 2(a).

This is not remotely a congressional suspension of the writ, and no one claims that it is. Contrary to the plurality’s view, I do not think this statute even authorizes detention of a citizen with the clarity necessary to satisfy the interpretive canon that statutes should be construed so as to avoid grave constitutional concerns. . . . But even if it did, I would not permit it to overcome Hamdi’s entitlement to habeas corpus relief. The Suspension Clause of the Constitution, which carefully circumscribes the conditions under which the writ can be withheld, would be a sham if it could be evaded by congressional prescription of requirements other than the common-law requirement of committal for criminal prosecution that render the writ, though available, unavailing. If the Suspension Clause does not guarantee the citizen that he will either be tried or released, unless the conditions for suspending the writ exist and the grave action of suspending the writ has been taken; if it merely guarantees the citizen that he will not be detained unless Congress by ordinary legislation says he can be detained, it guarantees him very little indeed.

It should not be thought, however, that the plurality’s evisceration of the Suspension Clause augments, principally, the power of Congress. As usual, the major effect of its constitutional improvisation is to increase the power of the Court. Having found a congressional authorization for detention of citizens where none clearly exists; and having discarded the categorical procedural protection of the Suspension Clause; the plurality then proceeds, under the guise of the Due Process Clause, to prescribe what procedural protections it thinks appropriate. It “weigh[s] the private interest . . . against the Government’s asserted interest,” ante, and — just as though writing a new Constitution — comes up with an unheard-of system in which the citizen rather than the Government bears the burden of proof, testimony is by hearsay rather than live witnesses, and the presiding officer may well be a “neutral” military officer rather than judge and jury. It claims authority to engage in this sort of “judicious balancing” from Mathews v. Eldridge (1976), a case involving . . . the withdrawal of disability benefits! Whatever the merits of this technique when newly recognized property rights are at issue (and even there they are questionable), it has no place where the Constitution and the common law already supply an answer. . . .

There is a certain harmony of approach in the plurality’s making up for Congress’s failure to invoke the Suspension Clause and its making up for the Executive’s failure to apply what it says are needed procedures — an approach that reflects what might be called a Mr. Fix-it Mentality. The plurality seems to view it as its mission to Make Everything Come Out Right, rather than merely to decree the consequences, as far as individual rights are concerned, of the other two branches’ actions and omissions. Has the Legislature failed to suspend the writ in the current dire emergency? Well, we will remedy that failure by prescribing the reasonable conditions that a suspension should have included. And has the Executive failed to live up to those reasonable conditions? Well, we will ourselves make that failure good, so that this dangerous fellow (if he is dangerous) need not be set free. The problem with this approach is not only that it steps out of the courts’ modest and limited role in a democratic society; but that by repeatedly doing what it thinks the political branches ought to do it encourages their lassitude and saps the vitality of government by the people.

  1. Several limitations give my views in this matter a relatively narrow compass. They apply only to citizens, accused of being enemy combatants, who are detained within the territorial jurisdiction of a federal court. This is not likely to be a numerous group; currently we know of only two, Hamdi and Jose Padilla. Where the citizen is captured outside and held outside the United States, the constitutional requirements may be different. . . .

I frankly do not know whether these tools are sufficient to meet the Government’s security needs, including the need to obtain intelligence through interrogation. It is far beyond my competence, or the Court’s competence, to determine that. But it is not beyond Congress’s. If the situation demands it, the Executive can ask Congress to authorize suspension of the writ — which can be made subject to whatever conditions Congress deems appropriate, including even the procedural novelties invented by the plurality today. To be sure, suspension is limited by the Constitution to cases of rebellion or invasion. But whether the attacks of September 11, 2001, constitute an “invasion,” and whether those attacks still justify suspension several years later, are questions for Congress rather than this Court. If civil rights are to be curtailed during wartime, it must be done openly and democratically, as the Constitution requires, rather than by silent erosion through an opinion of this Court. . . .

Justice Thomas, dissenting.

The Executive Branch, acting pursuant to the powers vested in the President by the Constitution and with explicit congressional approval, has determined that Yaser Hamdi is an enemy combatant and should be detained. This detention falls squarely within the Federal Government’s war powers, and we lack the expertise and capacity to second-guess that decision. As such, petitioners’ habeas challenge should fail, and there is no reason to remand the case. The plurality reaches a contrary conclusion by failing adequately to consider basic principles of the constitutional structure as it relates to national security and foreign affairs and by using the balancing scheme of Mathews v. Eldridge (1976). I do not think that the Federal Government’s war powers can be balanced away by this Court. Arguably, Congress could provide for additional procedural protections, but until it does, we have no right to insist upon them. But even if I were to agree with the general approach the plurality takes, I could not accept the particulars. The plurality utterly fails to account for the Government’s compelling interests and for our own institutional inability to weigh competing concerns correctly. I respectfully dissent.

  1. “It is ‘obvious and unarguable’ that no governmental interest is more compelling than the security of the Nation.” Haig v. Agee (1981). The national security, after all, is the primary responsibility and purpose of the Federal Government. See, e.g., The Federalist No. 23 (A. Hamilton) (“The principle purposes to be answered by Union are these — The common defense of the members — the preservation of the public peace as well against internal convulsions as external attacks”). But because the Founders understood that they could not foresee the myriad potential threats to national security that might later arise, they chose to create a Federal Government that necessarily possesses sufficient power to handle any threat to the security of the Nation. The power to protect the Nation

ought to exist without limitation . . . [b]ecause it is impossible to foresee or define the extent and variety of national exigencies, or the correspondent extent & variety of the means which may be necessary to satisfy them. The circumstances that endanger the safety of nations are infinite; and for this reason no constitutional shackles can wisely be imposed on the power to which the care of it is committed.

The Founders intended that the President have primary responsibility — along with the necessary power — to protect the national security and to conduct the Nation’s foreign relations. They did so principally because the structural advantages of a unitary Executive are essential in these domains. “Energy in the executive is a leading character in the definition of good government. It is essential to the protection of the community against foreign attacks.” The Federalist No. 70 (A. Hamilton). The principle “ingredien[t]” for “energy in the executive” is “unity.” This is because “[d]ecision, activity, secrecy, and dispatch will generally characterise the proceedings of one man, in a much more eminent degree, than the proceedings of any greater number.”

These structural advantages are most important in the national-security and foreign-affairs contexts. “Of all the cares or concerns of government, the direction of war most peculiarly demands those qualities which distinguish the exercise of power by a single hand.” The Federalist No. 74 (A. Hamilton). Also for these reasons, John Marshall explained that “[t]he President is the sole organ of the nation in its external relations, and its sole representative with foreign nations.” 10 Annals of Cong. 613 (1800). To this end, the Constitution vests in the President “[t]he executive Power,” Art. II, § 1, provides that he “shall be Commander in Chief of the” armed forces, § 2, and places in him the power to recognize foreign governments, § 3.

This Court has long recognized these features and has accordingly held that the President has constitutional authority to protect the national security and that this authority carries with it broad discretion.

“If a war be made by invasion of a foreign nation, the President is not only authorized but bound to resist force by force. He does not initiate the war, but is bound to accept the challenge without waiting for any special legislative authority. . . . Whether the President in fulfilling his duties, as Commander-in-chief, in suppressing an insurrection, has met with such armed hostile resistance . . . is a question to be decided by him.” Prize Cases (1863).

The Court has acknowledged that the President has the authority to “employ [the Nation’s Armed Forces] in the manner he may deem most effectual to harass and conquer and subdue the enemy.” Fleming v. Page (1850). With respect to foreign affairs as well, the Court has recognized the President’s independent authority and need to be free from interference. See, e.g., United States v. Curtiss-Wright (1936) (explaining that the President “has his confidential sources of information. He has his agents in the form of diplomatic, consular and other officials. Secrecy in respect of information gathered by them may be highly necessary, and the premature disclosure of it productive of harmful results”).

Congress, to be sure, has a substantial and essential role in both foreign affairs and national security. But it is crucial to recognize that judicial interference in these domains destroys the purpose of vesting primary responsibility in a unitary Executive. I cannot improve on Justice Jackson’s words [in Chicago & Southern Air Lines, Inc. v. Waterman S.S. Corp. (1948)]. [S]peaking for the Court:

The President, both as Commander-in-Chief and as the Nation’s organ for foreign affairs, has available intelligence services whose reports are not and ought not to be published to the world. It would be intolerable that courts, without the relevant information, should review and perhaps nullify actions of the Executive taken on information properly held secret. Nor can courts sit in camera in order to be taken into executive confidences. But even if courts could require full disclosure, the very nature of executive decisions as to foreign policy is political, not judicial. Such decisions are wholly confided by our Constitution to the political departments of the government, Executive and Legislative. They are delicate, complex, and involve large elements of prophecy. They are and should be undertaken only by those directly responsible to the people whose welfare they advance or imperil. They are decisions of a kind for which the Judiciary has neither aptitude, facilities nor responsibility and which has long been held to belong in the domain of political power not subject to judicial intrusion or inquiry.

Several points, made forcefully by Justice Jackson, are worth emphasizing. First, with respect to certain decisions relating to national security and foreign affairs, the courts simply lack the relevant information and expertise to second-guess determinations made by the President based on information properly withheld. Second, even if the courts could compel the Executive to produce the necessary information, such decisions are simply not amenable to judicial determination because “[t]hey are delicate, complex, and involve large elements of prophecy.” Third, the Court in Chicago & Southern Air Lines and elsewhere has correctly recognized the primacy of the political branches in the foreign-affairs and national-security contexts.

For these institutional reasons and because “Congress cannot anticipate and legislate with regard to every possible action the President may find it necessary to take or every possible situation in which he might act,” it should come as no surprise that “[s]uch failure of Congress . . . does not, ‘especially . . . in the areas of foreign policy and national security,’ imply ‘congressional disapproval’ of action taken by the Executive.” Dames & Moore v. Regan (1981). Rather, in these domains, the fact that Congress has provided the President with broad authorities does not imply — and the Judicial Branch should not infer — that Congress intended to deprive him of particular powers not specifically enumerated. As far as the courts are concerned, “the enactment of legislation closely related to the question of the President’s authority in a particular case which evinces legislative intent to accord the President broad discretion may be considered to ‘invite’ ‘measures on independent presidential responsibility.'”

Finally, and again for the same reasons, where “the President acts pursuant to an express or implied authorization from Congress, he exercises not only his powers but also those delegated by Congress[, and in] such a case the executive action ‘would be supported by the strongest of presumptions and the widest latitude of judicial interpretation, and the burden of persuasion would rest heavily upon any who might attack it.'” Dames & Moore. That is why the Court has explained, in a case analogous to this one, that “the detention[,] ordered by the President in the declared exercise of his powers as Commander in Chief of the Army in time of war and of grave public danger[, is] not to be set aside by the courts without the clear conviction that [it is] in conflict with the Constitution or laws of Congress constitutionally enacted.” Ex parte Quirin (1942) . . .

* * *

Hamdi v. Rumsfeld: Note

            Though Hamdi was born in the United States, his family moved back to Saudi Arabia when he was two. After his release, his lawyers and others gave his account of what happened. According to this account, Hamdi went to Afghanistan for religious study and attended a camp run by the Taliban where men practiced and studied religion, calisthenics, and use of small arms. After September 11, he attempted to leave the country, but the borders were closed, and he was unable to leave. He was later captured by the Northern Alliance. Hamdi says he later learned he was “sold” by the Northern Alliance to the American forces for $20,000.

In contrast, the Department of Defense contended that Hamdi was an enemy combatant fighting with the Taliban. It is unclear whether the Government had independent evidence to support that claim beyond statements by members of the Northern Alliance or what compensation, if any, the Northern Alliance may have received for turning over Hamdi as an “enemy combatant.” After the Supreme Court decision, the United States government agreed to release Hamdi in exchange for his agreement to renounce his American citizenship and not to reenter the United States. See, Joel Brinkley and Eric Lichblau, “U.S. Releases Saudi-American It had Captured in Afghanistan,” New York Times, Oct. 12, 2004 at A-5.


[1]. Because we hold that Hamdi is constitutionally entitled to the process described above, we need not address at this time whether any treaty guarantees him similar access to a tribunal for a determination of his status.


[2]. As I shall discuss presently, the Court purported to limit this language in Ex parte Quirin (1942). Whatever Quirin‘s effect on Milligan’s precedential value, however, it cannot undermine its value as an indicator of original meaning. Cf. Reid v. Covert (1957) (plurality opinion) (Milligan remains “one of the great landmarks in this Court’s history”).