In 2001, American military forces in Afghanistan arrested American Yaser Hamdi. US military officials charged Hamdi with collaborating with the Taliban and subsequently termed as an “enemy combatant,” and detained to a military detention facility in Virginia. Virginia-based lawyer Frank Dunham filed a motion for habeas corpus for Hamdi in Federal court, initially for his own and then on behalf of Hamdi’s father.
In Dunham’s motion to declare Hamdi’s detention unconstitutional, Dunham argued that Hamdi’s “right to due process” as enshrined in the Fifth Amendment by detaining him sine die and not allowing Hamdi to consult or engage the services of counsel. In countering the argument, government lawyers averred that in times of war, the government had the authority to designate individuals that contend against the United States as “enemy combatants” and inhibit their access to the courts.
The District Court decided in favor of Hamdi and ordered the government to free him from detention. However, the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals overturned the decision, finding that the “separation of powers” doctrine mandated that Federal courts to limit their involvement in such cases in time of war. This circumstance is due to the factor that “the Executive and legislative branches are organized to supervise the conduct of overseas conflict in a way that the judiciary simply cannot.” Here the question posed is whether the government violated Hamdi’s Fifth Amendment rights, or was right in adopting the “enemy combatant” method that was upheld by the appellate courts (US Supreme Court Media-IIT Chicago-Kent College of Law 1).
Issues: Striking a balance
In formulating the decision, the High Court devised a “balancing plan” initially used in Matthews v Eldridge. The stake of Hamdi consisted of his interest in securing his freedom from the misguided detention of the government; the government’s stake is two-fold. One is the prevention of the “enemy combatant” from able to rejoin the enemy and the liberty from the complication of having to contest the policies of the military from another country.
In answering the question whether the government violated Hamdi’s rights or not, the High Court, in a 6-3 decision, ruled that the government did and did not. In the ruling, Justice Sandra Day O’ Connor stated that though the Federal government, specifically Congress, allowed Hamdi’s imprisonment, the rights under the Fifth Amendment to “due process” allows a citizen being detained in the United States categorized as an “enemy combatant” to challenge the detention. In addition, the citizen, such as Hamdi, is guaranteed the right to contest the detention before an impartial tribunal.
In developing the proper constitutional equilibrium, the High Court ruled that detainees who are Americans must get a “notice of the factual basis for his classification, and a fair opportunity to rebut the government’s factual assertions before a neutral decision-maker.” As Hamdi was not given that opportunity, the Court ruled that in all sense of the word, Hamdi was no accorded that chance. The interrogation of Hamdi before a military panel, in the holding of the Court, could not be reasonably construed as a “constitutionally adequate fact-finding” mechanism before an impartial party.
Finally, the Supreme Court rebuffed the position that in times of war, the President is given a “blank check” in terms interpreting the rights of its citizens. Though the “War Power” is the right to be able to conduct a war to a successful conclusion, there are still constitutional limits that must be left operational during these times (Anderson 699-700).
The majority rebuffed the position of the government that the doctrine of the “separation of powers” restrains the judiciary from hearing the challenge lodged by Hamdi. In addition to this statement, Justice David Souter and Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg agreed with the majority on the point that Hamdi possessed the right to contend his designation as an “enemy combatant.” However, Souter and Ginsburg digressed with the position of the majority in the court that Congress sanctioned the imprisonment of Hamdi (US Supreme Court, 1).
Enacted by an overwhelming majority from both sides of the political aisle, the USA Patriot Act was adopted as an effective tool in defending the lives of American civilians from the murderous intentions that have vowed to destroy the United States and its institutions. The law amplified the retributive clauses of prevailing statutes for criminal offenses that are most likely to be committed by extremists. These intensified penalties include acts of wrecking energy facilities, providing critical support for extremisms, and destroying resources related to national defense. It also amplified penalties for conspiracy-related crimes such as assaulting communication systems, sabotage of nuclear facilities, and giving material support to extremists (United States Department of Justice 1).
Under the tenets of the USA Patriot Act, the US government, the Attorney General to be specific, is allowed to take into custody a foreigner that falls under the definition of Section 412, paragraph 3. Under this definition, a person that can be detained under the provision is one that “is engaged in any other activity that endangers the national security of the United States.” Paragraph 5 states that the Attorney General will initiate deportation proceedings against the foreigner. Should the Attorney General will fail to meet this requirement, then the government will release the individual (Electronic Privacy Information Center 1).
Anderson, James B, “Hamdi v. Rumsfeld: Judicious balancing at the intersection of the Executive’s power to detain and the citizen-detainee’s right to due process.” Journal of Criminal Law and Criminology 95(3) 2005 pp. 689-723
Electronic Privacy Information Center, “USA PATRIOT Act (H.R. 3162)” <http://www.epic.org/privacy/terrorism/hr3162.html
United States Department of Justice, “Highlights of the USA PATRIOT Act” <http://www.justice.gov/archive/ll/highlights.htm
US Supreme Court Media-IIT Chicago-Kent College of Law “Hamdi v. Rumsfeld.” <http://www.oyez.org/cases/2000-2009/2003/2003_03_6696