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HAMDAN v. RUMSFELD, SECRETARY OF DEFENSE, ET AL.
OCTOBER TERM, 2005

DOCUMENT DESCRIPTION

In this recent landmark case, the Court issued a 5-3 decision that the Bush administration's policy of trying suspected terrorists via military comission is a violation of both the Geneva Conventions and the Uniform Code of Military Justice.

EXCERPT

Pursuant to Congress' Joint 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 September 11, 2001, al Qaeda terrorist attacks (AUMF), U. S. Armed Forces invaded Afghanistan. During the hostilities, in 2001, militia forces captured petitioner Hamdan, a Yemeni national, and turned him over to the U. S. military, which, in 2002, transported him to prison in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. Over a year later, the President deemed Hamdan eligible for trial by military commission for then-unspecified crimes. After another year, he was charged with conspiracy "to commit ... offenses triable by military commission." In habeas and mandamus petitions, Hamdan asserted that the military commission lacks authority to try him because (1) neither congressional Act nor the common law of war supports trial by this commission for conspiracy, an offense that, Hamdan says, is not a violation of the law of war; and (2) the procedures adopted to try him violate basic tenets of military and international law, including the principle that a defendant must be permitted to see and hear the evidence against him.

The District Court granted habeas relief and stayed the commission's proceedings, concluding that the President's authority to establish military commissions extends only to offenders or offenses triable by such a commission under the law of war; that such law includes the Third Geneva Convention; that Hamdan is entitled to that Convention's full protections until adjudged, under it, not to be a prisoner of war; and that, whether or not Hamdan is properly classified a prisoner of war, the commission convened to try him was established in violation of both the Uniform Code of Military Justice (UCMJ), 10 U. S. C. 801 et seq., and Common Article 3 of the Third Geneva Convention because it had the power to convict based on evidence the accused would never see or hear. The D. C. Circuit reversed. Although it declined the Government's invitation to abstain from considering Hamdan's challenge, cf. Schlesinger v. Councilman, 420 U. S. 738, the appeals court ruled, on the merits, that Hamdan was not entitled to relief because the Geneva Conventions are not judicially enforceable. The court also concluded that Ex parte Quirin, 317 U. S. 1, foreclosed any separation-of-powers objection to the military commission's jurisdiction, and that Hamdan's trial before the commission would violate neither the UCMJ nor Armed Forces regulations implementing the Geneva Conventions.

Held: The judgment is reversed, and the case is remanded

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