Hamdi V. Rumsfeld (2004)


Hamdi V. Rumsfeld (542 U.S. 507) is a United States Supreme Court case involving Yaser Esam Hamdi, an American born citizen captured in Afghanistan in 2001 by Afghani militants and turned over to U.S. forces during the initial American invasion or Iraq and Afghanistan. He was held by the United States in detention, indefinitely, for the duration of his trial. The court recognized the power of the government to detain anyone labeled as an enemy combatant, including U.S. citizens, indefinitely without trial, but ruled that U.S. citizens must have the right to due process, and the power to challenge their enemy combatant status.

This is an important case as it not only follows closely to Bush Junior’s Patriot Act, but also the subsequent turmoil and hate between western and eastern civilizations, specifically the United States and many countries in the middle east (Iran, Iraq, Afghanistan, etc.). It also poses a lot of questions about assumed assailants and enemies of the United States: Who is really considered an enemy of the U.S.? What justification does the government have to indefinitely detain someone? At what point does labeling someone an enemy become hearsay?

After winning his trials, Hamdi was eventually released in 2004, with the stipulation that he be deported to Saudi Arabia, where his family lives, and stripped of his U.S. citizenship.

First Timeline


The passing of The Civil Rights Act ensured the rights of colored people all around the United States. After its passing, it seemed that acceptance was coming around in a big way for any person of color other than white or religion than Christian. Unfortunately, as soon as we take a step for the better, our national security comes into question. The threat of Communism from the Soviet Union loomed over the world, to many bringing the same fear as Nazi-Germany did during World War II.

To combat the USSR, The United States trained militant guerrilla soldiers, called Mujahideen, in the Middle East. This was arguably one of the biggest mistakes the U.S. made in terms of modern day threats. Though the Mujahideen successfully suppressed the influence of Communism by the USSR, they spawned Al Qaeda, one of the biggest terror groups known in the world today. Even worse, From Al-Qaeda spawned our current terror threat, ISIS (Islamic State Of Iraq And Syria).

We were effectively fighting the monster we created after all that we had achieved in terms of Civil Rights, and it only got worse. After the 9/11 attacks, U.S. forces invaded Iraq and Afghanistan, starting the War On Terror, and causing hundreds of thousands of civilian and military deaths.

U.S. citizens started to unrightfully blame and generalize Muslims for terror attacks and the War On Terror. The Patriot Act was passed to keep enemies of the United States in indefinite detention without trial to make sure they wouldn’t execute terror attacks. This is around the time Hamdi was captured in Afghanistan and his custody was given to U.S. military forces.

Procedural History

After his initial capture and interrogation by Afghani soldiers, Hamdi was sent to Guantanamo Bay for the remainder of his detention. This is when his father, Esam Fouad Hamdi, filed a habeus corpus petition in Virginia’s U.S. District Court to challenge his detention.

U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia – 243 F.Supp.2d 527 (E.D. Va. 2002)

Defendant’s motion to dismiss denied. Barring the submission of further evidence, the government has not conclusively shown that it was correct in classifying Hamdi as an enemy combatant.

After receiving news that his petition would be denied in the name of national security of the United States, the case was sent back to the district court, which denied the motion to dismiss Hamdi’s petition. This was because the evidence framing Hamdi as an enemy combatant was “woefully inadequate” and based predominantly on hearsay and bare assertions.

U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit – 294 F.3d 598 (4th Cir. 2002)

Reversed, Access to an attorney is not appropriate for an individual classified and detained as an enemy combatant, based on the government’s strong interest in national security.

When reversed by the District Court and sent back to the Appeals Court, it was reversed yet again, citing its reason that Hamdi was captured in a zone of active combat and that it was not proper to hear anything further on the matter. It also ruled that broad war-making powers delegated to the president under Article II under the U.S. Constitution and the Separation of Powers prohibited courts from interfering in this area due to national security.

U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit – 316 F.3d 450 (4th Cir. 2003)

Reversed. The district court should have given more deference to the government’s statements that the individual met the definition of an enemy combatant, taking into account the executive branch’s extensive powers during wartime under Article II of the Constitution. The separation of powers principle prevents a court from hearing a challenge to this status.

The case was then appealed to the supreme court. It was granted on Jan. 9, 2004, argued on April 28, 2004, and decided Jun. 28, 2004.


The issues at hand are very straightforward and compelling to understand. First, was Hamdi legally detained? Secondly, is he truly an enemy combatant? Lastly, is he entitled to due process by law because he is an American Citizen?


In the case, the United States Supreme Court ruled in favor of Yaser Esam Hamdi, in a landslide of 8-1 (3). There was no single opinion of the Court that gained a majority over the others. Justice Antonin Scalia’s dissent was paired up with Justice John Paul Steven. Justice David Souter was paired up with Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg. Justice Sandra Day O’Connor wrote the majority opinion, and Chief Justice Rehnquist and Justices Stephen Breyer and Anthony Kennedy ended up siding with her (2). The only justice who voted entirely for the Executive Branch and against Hamdi was Justice Clarence Thomas. The Court found that the government had violated the due process clause of Hamdi, which is a constitutional right of a citizen, and failed to recognize his right to challenge the status of “enemy combatant” (3).

Majority Opinion

O’Connor admits, in the plurality opinion, that under the Authorization for the Use of Military Force (AUMF) the government did have the right to detain Hamdi.  However as an American Citizen Hamdi had the right to seek due process of law and contest his classification as an enemy combatant.  O’Connor use the Mathew v. Eldridge test to explain, Hamdi was entitled to notice of charges and a right to be heard in court, but because of the burden on the Executive of ongoing military hostilities burden of proof and a ban on hearsay no longer applied.  She goes on to recommend the military establish fact finding tribunals to determine military combatant status.  This would imply that it would be the detainee’s burden to contest detention and provide evidence.  In conclusion O’Connor makes it clear that as a U.S. Citizen Hamdi has the right to contest his detention.

Dissenting Opinion

Scalia does not agree with the plurality that Hamdi’s was legally detained under the Authorization for the Use of Military Force (AUMF).  He argues that historically there have been two options when dealing with U.S. Citizens who bear arms against the U.S.  First congress can suspend the writ of habeas corpus of secondly they can Hamdi can be tried in normal U.S. courts.  He also argue against the plurality for citing the Mathew v. Eldridge test explain this test was used in a case about the withholding of disability benefit and in no way pertains to Hamdi’s case.  Finally Scalia argues that creating the court creating a system to deal with an issue like this is unheard of.  He explains that a system in which the burden of proof on the detainee and the allowance of hearsay is unacceptable.  Furthermore Scalia argues that our constitution is prepared for issues like this, that it is the job of congress to pass laws with provisions for detention and suspension of the writ.  Also that it falls to the Executive to live up to the conditions put into place by Congress. And that by leaving such an important decision to the Court those to two branches have failed to live up to their responsibilities.

Full Text Of Opinions

Significance / Impact

The Court made a significant decision in Hamdi vs Rumsfeld (2004). Siding with Hamdi, the Court asserted their paramount role in and pledge to guarding personal liberties, even when the country is in times of national exigencies. Since the ruling left some open questions that needed to be answered, Congress and the President decided to fix that void left by the ruling and passed the Military Commission Act in the fall of 2006 (6). The Military Commission Act of 2006 was the Bush Administration attempt to cover their backs from the fallout of the ruling in Hamdi v. Rumsfeld (2004). In general, the bill does three things. First, “it strips the rights of detainees to habeas corpus”; Second, “ It gives the United States President the power to detain indefinitely anyone it deems to have provided material support to anti-US hostilities, and even use secret and coerced evidence to try detainees who will be held in secret US military prisons”; Lastly, “ It gives United States’ officials immunity from prosecution for torturing detainees that were captured before the end of 2005 by US military and CIA.” (4) Since the bill was signed into law in 2006, there has been a loud uproar. Modifications in 2008 and 2009 have tried to limit the power of the government in times of national exigencies (4).

Second Timeline

Constitutional Provisions

Both sides of the argument had constitutional provisions that benefitted them and backed why their side should win. In regards to Hamdi’s side of the argument, the Suspension Clause and the Due Process Clause are both strong arguments. The Suspension Clause is “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.” (7) On the other hand, the Due Process Clause is “”First, it incorporates specific protections defined in the Bill of Rights. Second, it contains a substantive component, sometimes referred to as ‘substantive due process.’ Third, it is a guarantee of fair procedure, sometimes referred to as ‘procedural due process.” (1) With those arguments being said, the Bush Administration and the CIA claimed they had protection under the Article II powers; Vesting clause, Commander-in-Chief clause, and the Take Care clause. (7)

Major Statute(s) Under Review

The main question the court was seeking an answer to was whether or not the Executive has the authority to detain any citizen considered an “enemy combatant,” and deciding the definition of “enemy combatant.” The statute under review for this case was ​The Non-Detention Act, ​and whether or not Congress authorized the “indefinite detention” of Hamdi​. ​Hamdi was also challenging the extent to which the President could use his power granted in the Authorization for Military force. The Supreme Court used the Mathews Balancing test to determine if the defendant rights that are stated in the Due Process Clause were violated.

The Non-Detention Act, 18 U.S.C. 4001 (a)
18 U.S.C. 4001(a) provides that “no citizen shall be imprisoned or otherwise detained by the United States except pursuant to an Act of Congress.”

“The ​Authorization for use of Military force​ ​authorized 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.”

The Due Process Clause of the Fifth Amendment states: “No person shall . . . be deprived of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law . . . .

The Mathews Balancing Test ​is a procedure established in ​Mathews v. Eldridge. ​ It is used to determine an individual’s constitutional right to procedural due process. Important Precedents

Important Precedents

  •  Ex Parte Milligan (1866)
    • Helped establish limits on President’s power to use military action “based on war” 
  • Ex Parte Quirin (1942)
    • Became precedent for the commission of military tribunals for and unlawful combatants against the United States

Important Subsequent Cases

  • Hamdan v. Rumsfeld (2006)
    • Ruled that Common Article 3 of the Geneva Convention and the Uniform Code of Military Justice was violated by military commissions held by the Bush Administration​ because lacked “the power to proceed because its structures and procedures”
  • Boumediene v. Bush (2008)
    • Declared the Military Comissions Act of 2006 unconstitutional. Also confirmed that prisoners have the constitutional right to Habeus Corpus.

Web Resources

  1. Ely, James W., Jr. “Due Process Clause.” Guide to the Constitution. The Heritage Guide to The Constitution, 2012. Web. 01 May 2016. [http://www.heritage.org/constitution/#!/amendments/14/essays/170/due-process-clause]
  2. “Hamdi v. Rumsfeld (2004) – Bill of Rights Institute.” Bill of Rights Institute. N.p., n.d. Web. 01 May 2016. [https://billofrightsinstitute.org/educate/educator-resources/lessons-plans/landmark-supreme-court-cases-elessons/hamdi-v-rumsfeld-2004/]
  3. “Hamdi v. Rumsfeld (amicus).” Center for Constitutional Rights. N.p., 2007. Web. 01 May 2016. [http://ccrjustice.org/home/what-we-do/our-cases/hamdi-v-rumsfeld-amicus]
  4. McBride, Alex. “The Supreme Court: The History.” PBS. PBS, n.d. Web. 01 May 2016. [http://www.pbs.org/wnet/supremecourt/future/landmark_hamdan.html]
  5. Oyez. “Hamdi V. Rumsfled (2004).” Chicago- Kent College of Law. Illinois Institute of Technology, n.d. Web. 01 May 2016. [https://www.oyez.org/cases/2003/03-6696]
  6. Shah, Anup. “US Military Commissions Act 2006-Unchecked Powers?” – Global Issues. N.p., 2006. Web. 01 May 2016. [http://www.globalissues.org/article/684/us-military-commissions-act-2006-unchecked-powers]
  7. Vickrey, C. “Hamdi v. Rumsfeld.” Hamdi VS. Rumsfeld (2004). Colby, 2008. Web. 01 May 2016. [https://wiki.colby.edu/display/go492/Hamdi+v.+Rumsfeld]
  8. “Journal of Criminal Law and Criminology.” “Hamdi v. Rumsfeld: Judicious Balancing at the Intersection of the Exec” by James B. Anderson. Web. 01 May 2016.
  9. “Hamdi v. Rumsfeld 542 U.S. 507 (2004).” Justia Law. Web. 01 May 2016.
  10. “Hamdi v Rumsfeld.” Hamdi v Rumsfeld. Web. 01 May 2016. [http://law2.umkc.edu/faculty/projects/ftrials/conlaw/hamdi.html]
  11. “HAMDI V. RUMSFELD.” HAMDI V. RUMSFELD. 2004. Web. 01 May 2016.


Academic Books, Articles, and Law Reviews

  • 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): n. pag. Journal of Criminal Law and Criminology, 2005. Web. 2016 [http://scholarlycommons.law.northwestern.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=7193&context=jclc]
  • Schultz, David A., and John R. Vile. “Hamdi v Rumsfeld (2004).” The Encyclopedia of Civil Liberties in America. Vol. 1.3. Armonk, NY: Sharpe Reference, 2005. N. page 434. Print.


Spring 2016: Seth Johnson, Trey Calcinore, Alex Morrison, and Dustin Mortensen