was a writ of habeas corpus submission made in a civilian court of the United States on behalf of Lakhdar Boumediene, a naturalized citizen of Bosnia and Herzegovina, held in military detention by the United States at the Guantanamo Bay detention camps in Cuba. Guantanamo Bay is not formally part of the United States, and under the terms of the 1903 lease between the United States and Cuba, Cuba retained ultimate sovereignty over the territory, while the United States exercises complete jurisdiction and control. The case was consolidated with habeas petition Al Odah v. United States. It challenged the legality of Boumediene's detention at the United States Naval Station military base in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba as well as the constitutionality of the Military Commissions Act of 2006. Oral arguments on the combined cases were heard by the Supreme Court on December 5, 2007.
On June 12, 2008, Justice Kennedy delivered the opinion for the 5-4 majority, holding that the prisoners had a right to the habeas corpus under the United States Constitution and that the Military Commissions Act of 2006 was an unconstitutional suspension of that right. The Court applied the Insular Cases, by the fact that the United States, by virtue of its complete jurisdiction and control, maintains "de facto" sovereignty over this territory, while Cuba retained ultimate sovereignty over the territory, to hold that the aliens detained as enemy combatants on that territory were entitled to the writ of habeas corpus protected in Article I, Section 9 of the U.S. Constitution. The lower court had expressly indicated that no constitutional rights (not merely the right to habeas) extend to the Guantanamo detainees, rejecting petitioners' arguments, but the Supreme Court held that fundamental rights afforded by the Constitution extend to the Guantanamo detainees as well.
Along with Rasul v. Bush (2004), Hamdi v. Rumsfeld (2004), and Hamdan v. Rumsfeld (2006), this is a landmark case in the Court's detainee jurisprudence.
Facts of the Case
In 2002 Lakhdar Boumediene and five other Algerian natives were seized by Bosnian police when U.S. intelligence officers suspected their involvement in a plot to attack the U.S. embassy there. The U.S. government classified the men as enemy combatants in the war on terror and detained them at the Guantanamo Bay Naval Base, which is located on land that the U.S. leases from Cuba. Boumediene filed a petition for a writ of habeas corpus, alleging violations of the Constitution's Due Process Clause, various statutes and treaties, the common law, and international law. The District Court judge granted the government's motion to have all of the claims dismissed on the ground that Boumediene, as an alien detained at an overseas military base, had no right to a habeas petition. The U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit affirmed the dismissal but the Supreme Court reversed in Rasul v. Bush, which held that the habeas statute extends to non-citizen detainees at Guantanamo.
In 2006, Congress passed the Military Commissions Act of 2006 (MCA). The Act eliminates federal courts' jurisdiction to hear habeas applications from detainees who have been designated (according to procedures established in the Detainee Treatment Act of 2005) as enemy combatants. When the case was appealed to the D.C. Circuit for the second time, the detainees argued that the MCA did not apply to their petitions, and that if it did, it was unconstitutional under the Suspension Clause. The Suspension Clause reads: "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."
The D.C. Circuit ruled in favor of the government on both points. It cited language in the MCA applying the law to "all cases, without exception" that pertain to aspects of detention. One of the purposes of the MCA, according to the Circuit Court, was to overrule the Supreme Court's opinion in Hamdan v. Rumsfeld, which had allowed petitions like Boumediene's to go forward. The D.C. Circuit held that the Suspension Clause only protects the writ of habeas corpus as it existed in 1789, and that the writ would not have been understood in 1789 to apply to an overseas military base leased from a foreign government. Constitutional rights do not apply to aliens outside of the United States, the court held, and the leased military base in Cuba does not qualify as inside the geographic borders of the U.S. In a rare reversal, the Supreme Court granted certiorari after initially denying review three months earlier.
Read the Briefs for this Case
Should the Military Commissions Act of 2006 be interpreted to strip federal courts of jurisdiction over habeas petitions filed by foreign citizens detained at the U.S. Naval Base at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba?
If so, is the Military Commissions Act of 2006 a violation of the Suspension Clause of the Constitution?
Are the detainees at Guantanamo Bay entitled to the protection of the Fifth Amendment right not to be deprived of liberty without due process of law and of the Geneva Conventions?
Can the detainees challenge the adequacy of judicial review provisions of the MCA before they have sought to invoke that review?
Decision: 5 votes for Boumediene, 4 vote(s) against
Legal provision: Article 1, Section 9, Paragraph 2: Suspension of the Writ of Habeas Corpus
A five-justice majority answered yes to each of these questions. The opinion, written by Justice Anthony Kennedy, stated that if the MCA is considered valid its legislative history requires that the detainees' cases be dismissed. However, the Court went on to state that because the procedures laid out in the Detainee Treatment Act are not adequate substitutes for the habeas writ, the MCA operates as an unconstitutional suspension of that writ. The detainees were not barred from seeking habeas or invoking the Suspension Clause merely because they had been designated as enemy combatants or held at Guantanamo Bay. The Court reversed the D.C. Circuit's ruling and found in favor of the detainees. Justice David H. Souter concurred in the judgment. Chief Justice John G. Roberts and Justice Antonin Scalia filed separate dissenting opinions.