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In re Guantamo Detainee Cases

January 31, 2005


The opinion of the court was delivered by: Joyce Hens Green, District Judge.


These eleven coordinated habeas cases were filed by detainees held as "enemy combatants" at the United States Naval Base at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. Presently pending is the government's motion to dismiss or for judgment as a matter of law regarding all claims filed by all petitioners, including claims based on the United States Constitution, treaties, statutes, regulations, the common law, and customary international law. Counsel filed numerous briefs addressing issues raised in the motion and argued their positions at a hearing in early December 2004. Upon consideration of all filings submitted in these cases and the arguments made at the hearing, and for the reasons stated below, the Court concludes that the petitioners have stated valid claims under the Fifth Amendment to the United States Constitution and that the procedures implemented by the government to confirm that the petitioners are "enemy combatants" subject to indefinite detention violate the petitioners' rights to due process of law. The Court also holds that at least some of the petitioners have stated valid claims under the Third Geneva Convention. Finally, the Court holds that the government is entitled to the dismissal of the petitioners' remaining claims.

Because this Memorandum Opinion references classified material, it is being issued in two versions. The official version is unredacted and is being filed with the Court Security Officer at the U.S. Department of Justice responsible for the management of classified information in these cases. The Court Security Officer will maintain possession of the original, distribute copies to counsel with the appropriate security clearances in accordance with the procedures earlier established in these cases, and ensure that the document is transmitted to the Court of Appeals should an appeal be taken. Classified information in the official version is highlighted in gray to alert the reader to the specific material that may not be released to the public. The other version of the Memorandum Opinion contains redactions of all classified information and, in an abundance of caution, portions of any discussions that might lead to the discovery of classified information. The redacted version is being posted in the electronic dockets of the cases and is available for public review.


In response to the horrific and unprecedented terrorist attacks by al Qaeda against the United States of America on September 11, 2001, Congress passed a 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 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, Pub.L. No. 107-40, § 2(a), 115 Stat. 224 (2001) (hereinafter "AUMF"). In accordance with the AUMF, President George W. Bush ordered the commencement of military operations in Afghanistan against al Qaeda and the Taliban regime, which harbored the terrorist organization. During the course of the military campaign, United States forces took custody of numerous individuals who were actively fighting against allied forces on Afghan soil. Many of these individuals were deemed by military authorities to be "enemy combatants" and, beginning in early 2002, were transferred to facilities at the United States Naval Base at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, where they continue to be detained by U.S. authorities.

In addition to belligerents captured during the heat of war in Afghanistan, the U.S. authorities are also detaining at Guantanamo Bay pursuant to the AUMF numerous individuals who were captured hundreds or thousands of miles from a battle zone in the traditional sense of that term. For example, detainees at Guantanamo Bay who are presently seeking habeas relief in the United States District Court for the District of Columbia include men who were taken into custody as far away from Afghanistan as Gambia*fn1 Zambia,*fn2 Bosnia,*fn3 and Thailand.*fn4 Some have already been detained as long as three years*fn5 while others have been captured as recently as September 2004.*fn6 Although many of these individuals may never have been close to an actual battlefield and may never have raised conventional arms against the United States or its allies, the military nonetheless has deemed them detainable as "enemy combatants" based on conclusions that they have ties to al Qaeda or other terrorist organizations.

All of the individuals who have been detained at Guantanamo Bay have been categorized to fall within a general class of people the administration calls "enemy combatants." It is the government's position that once someone has been properly designated as such, that person can be held indefinitely until the end of America's war on terrorism or until the military determines on a case by case basis that the particular detainee no longer poses a threat to the United States or its allies. Within the general set of "enemy combatants" is a subset of individuals whom the administration decided to prosecute for war crimes before a military commission established pursuant to a Military Order issued by President Bush on November 13, 2001. Detention, Treatment, and Trial of Certain Non-Citizens in the War Against Terrorism, 66 Fed.Reg. 57,833 (Nov. 13, 2001). Should individuals be prosecuted and convicted in accordance with the Military Order, they would be subject to sentences with fixed terms of incarceration or other specific penalties.

Since the beginning of the military's detention operations at Guantanamo Bay in early 2002, detainees subject to criminal prosecution have been bestowed with more rights than detainees whom the military did not intend to prosecute formally for war crimes. For example, the military regulations governing the prosecutions of detainees required a formal notice of charges, a presumption of innocence of any crime until proven guilty, a right to counsel, pretrial disclosure to the defense team of exculpatory evidence and of evidence the prosecution intends to use at trial, the right to call reasonably available witnesses, the right to have defense counsel cross-examine prosecution witnesses, the right to have defense counsel attend every portion of the trial proceedings even where classified information is presented, and the right to an open trial with the press present, at least for those portions not involving classified information. See Procedures for Trials by Military Commissions of Certain Non-United States Citizens in the War Against Terrorism, 32 C.F.R. §§ 9.1 et seq. (2005). Although detainees at Guantanamo Bay not subject to prosecution could suffer the same fate as those convicted of war crimes-- potentially life in prison, depending on how long America's war on terrorism lasts--they were not given any significant procedural rights to challenge their status as alleged "enemy combatants," at least until relatively recently. From the beginning of 2002 through at least June 2004, the substantial majority of detainees not charged with war crimes were not informed of the bases upon which they were detained, were not permitted access to counsel, were not given a formal opportunity to challenge their "enemy combatant" status, and were alleged to be held virtually incommunicado from the outside world. Whether those individuals deemed "enemy combatants" are entitled under the United States Constitution and other laws to any rights and, if so, the scope of those rights is the focus of the government's motion to dismiss and this Memorandum Opinion.*fn7

The first of these coordinated cases challenging the legality of the detention of alleged "enemy combatants" at Guantanamo Bay and the terms and conditions of that detention commenced nearly three years ago on February 19, 2002. Rasul v. Bush, 02-CV-0299 (CKK). The action, brought by relatives on behalf of one Australian and two British nationals as their "next friends,"*fn8 was styled as a petition for writ of habeas corpus pursuant to 28 U.S.C. §§ 2241 and 2242. The initial relief sought included an order requiring the release of the detainees, an order permitting counsel to meet with the detainees in private and without government monitoring, and an order directing the cessation of interrogations of the detainees during the pendency of litigation. The asserted substantive bases for the requested relief ultimately included the Fifth, Sixth, Eighth, and Fourteenth Amendments to the United States Constitution, the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, the American Declaration on the Rights and Duties of Man, and customary international law.

Less than three months after the commencement of Rasul, the second of these coordinated cases was filed. Al Odah v. Bush, 02-CV-0828 (CKK). The individuals filing suit on behalf of the twelve Kuwaiti detainees in that case did not expressly request release from custody but rather sought judicial enforcement of the detainees' asserted rights to meet with family members, be informed of any charges against them, and have access to the courts or some other impartial tribunal to exonerate themselves of any wrongdoing. The alleged bases for these rights included the Fifth Amendment to the United States Constitution, the Alien Tort Claims Act, and the Administrative Procedure Act.

The government filed a motion to dismiss the two cases, arguing that both of them should be classified as habeas actions and asserting that because all of the detainees were aliens being held outside the sovereign territory of the United States, the District Court should dismiss the actions for lack of jurisdiction to hear their claims. The government's motion relied heavily on Johnson v. Eisentrager, 339 U.S. 763, 70 S.Ct. 936, 94 L.Ed. 1255 (1950), a Supreme Court case involving German nationals convicted by a United States military commission sitting in China for acts committed in China after Germany's surrender in World War II. The German nationals were eventually incarcerated in Landsberg prison in Germany and sought habeas relief, claiming their trial, conviction, and imprisonment violated Articles I and III of the United States Constitution, the Fifth Amendment, other laws of the United States, and the Geneva Convention governing the treatment of prisoners of war. The Supreme Court ultimately held that the petitioners in Eisentrager had no standing to file a claim for habeas relief in a United States court.

In a thoughtful analysis of Eisentrager and its progeny, Judge Colleen Kollar-Kotelly granted the government's motion to dismiss both cases. Rasul v. Bush, 215 F.Supp.2d 55 (D.D.C.2002). The decision was based on an interpretation that Eisentrager barred claims of any alien seeking to enforce the United States Constitution in a habeas proceeding unless the alien is in custody in sovereign United States territory. Id. at 68. Recognizing that Guantanamo Bay is not part of the sovereign territory of the United States, id. at 69, the District Court dismissed the cases for lack of "jurisdiction to consider the constitutional claims that are presented to the Court for resolution." Id. at 73. After issuing a show cause order as to why an additional pending habeas case filed by a Guantanamo detainee, Habib v. Bush, 02-CV-1130 (CKK), should not be dismissed in light of the decision in Rasul and Al Odah, the District Court also dismissed that case, and all three cases were appealed to the United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit.

On appeal, the D.C. Circuit affirmed the District Court's decisions in all three cases. Al Odah v. United States, 321 F.3d 1134 (D.C.Cir.2003). Reviewing recent precedent involving aliens and constitutional rights, the Court of Appeals announced, "The law of the circuit now is that a 'foreign entity without property or presence in this country has no constitutional rights, under the due process clause or otherwise.' " Id. at 1141 (citing People's Mojahedin Org. v. U.S. Dep't of State, 182 F.3d 17, 22 (D.C.Cir.1999) and 32 County Sovereignty Comm. v. Dep't of State, 292 F.3d 797, 799 (D.C.Cir.2002)). "The consequence," the court continued, "is that no court in this country has jurisdiction to grant habeas relief, under 28 U.S.C. § 2241, to the Guantanamo detainees, even if they have not been adjudicated enemies of the United States." Id. at 1141.

The Supreme Court reversed the D.C. Circuit's decision and held that the District Court did have jurisdiction to hear the detainees' habeas claims. Rasul v. Bush, --- U.S. ----, 124 S.Ct. 2686, 159 L.Ed.2d 548 (2004). The majority opinion, issued June 28, 2004, noted several facts that distinguished the Guantanamo detainees from the petitioners in Eisentrager more than fifty years earlier:

[The Guantanamo petitioners] are not nationals of countries at war with the United States, and they deny that they have engaged in or plotted acts of aggression against the United States; they have never been afforded access to any tribunal, much less charged with and convicted of wrongdoing; and for more than two years they have been imprisoned in territory over which the United States exercises exclusive jurisdiction and control.

124 S.Ct. at 2693. Emphasizing that "[b]y the express terms of its agreements with Cuba, the United States exercises 'complete jurisdiction and control' over the Guantanamo Bay Naval Base," and highlighting that the government conceded at oral argument that "the habeas statute would create federal-court jurisdiction over the claims of an American citizen held at the base," the Court concluded, "Aliens held at the base, no less than American citizens, are entitled to invoke the federal courts' authority under [the habeas statute]." 124 S.Ct. at 2696.

The Supreme Court expressly acknowledged that the allegations contained in the petitions for writs of habeas corpus "unquestionably describe 'custody in violation of the Constitution or laws or treaties of the United States' " as required by the habeas statute, 124 S.Ct. at 2698 n. 15 (quoting 28 U.S.C. § 2241(c)(3)), and concluded by instructing:

Whether and what further proceedings may become necessary after respondents make their response to the merits of petitioners' claims are matters that we need not address now. What is presently at stake is only whether the federal courts have jurisdiction to determine the legality of the Executive's potentially indefinite detention of individuals who claim to be wholly innocent of wrongdoing. Answering that question in the affirmative, we reverse the judgment of the Court of Appeals and remand for the District Court to consider in the first instance the merits of petitioners' claims.

124 S.Ct. at 2699.

On July 7, 2004, nine days after the issuance of the Rasul decision, Deputy Secretary of Defense Paul Wolfowitz issued an Order creating a military tribunal called the Combatant Status Review Tribunal (hereinafter "CSRT") to review the status of each detainee at Guantanamo Bay as an "enemy combatant."*fn9 It appears that this is the first formal document to officially define the term "enemy combatant" as used by the respondents. That definition is as follows:

[T]he term "enemy combatant" shall mean an individual who was part of or supporting Taliban or al Qaeda forces, or associated forces that are engaged in hostilities against the United States or its coalition partners. This includes any person who has committed a belligerent act or has directly supported hostilities in aid of enemy armed forces.

The Deputy Secretary's Order notes that all Guantanamo detainees were previously determined to be "enemy combatants" through what the Order describes without additional specificity as "multiple levels of review by officers of the Department of Defense." Order at 1. The Order sets forth procedures by which detainees can contest this status before a panel of three commissioned military officers.

The CSRT procedures will be described in more detail below, but in brief, under the terms of the July 7 Order and a July 29, 2004 Memorandum issued by Secretary of the Navy Gordon England implementing the Order,*fn10 detainees for the first time have the right to hear the factual bases for their detention, at least to the extent that those facts do not involve information deemed classified by the administration. Detainees also have the right to testify why they contend they should not be considered "enemy combatants" and may present additional evidence they believe might exculpate them, at least to the extent the tribunal finds such evidence relevant and "reasonably available." The detainees do not have a right to counsel in the proceedings, although each is assigned a military officer who serves as a "Personal Representative" to assist the detainee in understanding the process and presenting his case. Formal rules of evidence do not apply, and there is a presumption in favor of the government's conclusion that a detainee is in fact an "enemy combatant." Although the tribunal is free to consider classified evidence supporting a contention that an individual is an "enemy combatant," that individual is not entitled to have access to or know the details of that classified evidence.

The record of the CSRT proceedings, including the tribunal's decision regarding "enemy combatant" status, is reviewed for legal sufficiency by the Staff Judge Advocate for the Convening Authority, the body designated by the Secretary of the Navy to appoint tribunal members and Personal Representatives. After that review, the Staff Judge Advocate makes a recommendation to the Convening Authority, which is then required either to approve the panel's decision or to send the decision back to the panel for further proceedings. It is the government's position that in the event a conclusion by the tribunal that a detainee is an "enemy combatant" is affirmed, it is legal to hold the detainee in custody until the war on terrorism has been declared by the President to have concluded or until the President or his designees have determined that the detainee is no longer a threat to national security. If the tribunal finally determines that a detainee should no longer be deemed an "enemy combatant," a written report of the decision is forwarded to the Secretary of Defense or his designee, who is then obligated to contact the Secretary of State for coordination of the transfer of the detainee either to his country of citizenship or elsewhere in accordance with law and U.S. foreign policy.

In the wake of the Supreme Court's decision in Rasul, several new habeas cases were filed on behalf of Guantanamo detainees in addition to those cases that were remanded by the Court as part of Rasul. As of the end of July 2004, thirteen cases involving more than sixty detainees were pending before eight Judges in this District Court. On July 23, 2004, the respondents filed a motion to consolidate all of the cases pending at that time. The motion was denied without prejudice three days later. On August 4, 2004, the respondents filed a motion seeking coordination of legal issues common to all cases. By order dated August 17, 2004, Judge Gladys Kessler on behalf of the Calendar and Case Management Committee granted the motion in part, designating this Judge to coordinate and manage all proceedings in the pending matters and, to the extent necessary, rule on procedural and substantive issues common to the cases. An Executive Session Resolution dated September 15, 2004 further clarified that this Judge would identify and delineate both procedural and substantive issues common to all or some of these cases and, as consented to by the transferring judge in each case, rule on common procedural issues. The Resolution also provided that to the extent additional consent was given by the transferring Judges, this Judge would address specified common substantive issues. The Resolution concluded by stating that any Judge who did not agree with any substantive decision made by this Judge could resolve the issue in his or her own case as he or she deemed appropriate. Although issues and motions were transferred to this Judge, the cases themselves have remained before the assigned Judges.

After two informal status conferences discussing, among other issues, the factual bases for the government's detention of the petitioners, this Judge issued a scheduling order requiring the respondents to file responsive pleadings showing cause why writs of habeas corpus and the relief sought by petitioners should not be granted. The order also incorporated the respondents' proposed schedule for the filing of factual returns identifying the specific bases upon which they claim the government is entitled to detain each petitioner at Guantanamo Bay as an "enemy combatant." Although most of the detainees had already been held as "enemy combatants" for more than two years and had been subjected to unspecified "multiple levels of review," the respondents chose to submit as factual support for their detention of the petitioners the records from the CSRT proceedings, which had only commenced in late August or early September 2004. Those factual returns were filed with the Court on a rolling basis as the CSRT proceedings were completed, with the earliest submitted on September 17, 2004 and the latest on December 30, 2004. Because every complete CSRT record contained classified information, respondents filed redacted, unclassified versions on the public record, submitted the full, classified versions for the Court's in camera review, and served on counsel for the petitioners with appropriate security clearances versions containing most of the classified information disclosed in the Court's copies but redacting some classified information that respondents alleged would not exculpate the detainees from their "enemy combatant" status.

During the fall, the Court resolved numerous procedural issues common to all cases. Among other matters, the Court ruled that the cases should not be transferred to the Eastern District of Virginia, where the primary respondent, Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld, maintains his office,*fn11 ruled on protective order issues,*fn12 and granted the petitioners certain rights relating to access to counsel to assist in the litigation of these cases.*fn13

On October 4, 2004, the respondents filed their Response to Petitions for Writ of Habeas Corpus and Motion to Dismiss or for Judgment as a Matter of Law in all thirteen cases pending before the Court at that time. Counsel for petitioners filed a joint opposition on November 5, 2004, which was supplemented by additional filings specific to the petitions filed in Al Odah v. United States, 02-CV-0828 (CKK); El-Banna v. Bush, 04-CV-1144 (RWR); and Boumediene v. Bush, 04-CV-1166 (RJL). Respondents filed replies in support of their original motion. The motions to dismiss in eleven of the thirteen cases were transferred by separate orders issued by the assigned Judges in accordance with the procedures set forth for the resolution of substantive matters in the September 15, 2004 Executive Resolution.*fn14 This Court held oral argument for the eleven cases with transferred motions on December 1, 2004. Subsequently, eight more habeas cases were filed on behalf of Guantanamo detainees.*fn15 Although this Memorandum Opinion addresses issues common to those new cases, counsel in those cases have not yet had the opportunity to fully brief or argue the issues on their own behalf. Accordingly, while the Judges assigned to those cases are free, of course, to adopt the reasoning contained in this Memorandum Opinion in resolving those motions, this Memorandum Opinion technically applies only to the eleven cases contained in the above caption.


The petitioners in these eleven cases allege that the detention at Guantanamo Bay and the conditions thereof violate a variety of laws. All petitions assert violations of the Fifth Amendment, and a majority claim violations of the Alien Tort Claims Act,*fn16 the Administrative Procedure Act,*fn17 and the Geneva Conventions.*fn18 In addition, certain petitions allege violations of the Sixth, Eighth, and Fourteenth Amendments; the War Powers Clause;*fn19 the Suspension Clause;*fn20 Army Regulation 190-8, entitled "Enemy Prisoners of War, Retained Personnel, Civilian Internees and Other Detainees;" the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights ("ICCPR");*fn21 the American Declaration on the Rights and Duties of Man ("ADRDM");*fn22 the Optional Protocol to the Convention on the Rights of the Child on the Involvement of Children in Armed Conflict;*fn23 the International Labour Organization's Convention 182, Concerning the Prohibition and Immediate Action for the Elimination of the Worst Forms of Child Labour;*fn24 and customary international law. The respondents contend that none of these provisions constitutes a valid basis for any of the petitioners' claims and seek dismissal of all counts as a matter of law under Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(b)(6) for failing to state a claim upon which relief can be granted. In the alternative, the respondents seek a judgment based on the pleadings pursuant to Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(c). The respondents have not requested entry of summary judgment pursuant to Fed.R.Civ.P. 56, and they have opposed requests for discovery made by counsel for the petitioners on the ground that those requests are premature at this stage of the proceedings. See, e.g., Respondents' Memorandum in Opposition to Petitioners' Motion for Leave to Take Discovery and For Preservation Order, filed January 12, 2005, at 6.

In addressing a motion to dismiss for failure to state a claim upon which relief can be granted pursuant to Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(b)(6), the Court must accept as true all factual allegations contained in a petition and must resolve every factual inference in the petitioner's favor. Sparrow v. United Air Lines, Inc., 216 F.3d 1111, 1113 (D.C.Cir.2000). The moving party is entitled to dismissal "only if it is clear that no relief could be granted under any set of facts that could be proved consistent with the allegations." Croixland Properties Ltd. Partnership v. Corcoran, 174 F.3d 213, 215 (D.C.Cir.1999) (quoting Hishon v. King & Spalding, 467 U.S. 69, 104 S.Ct. 2229, 81 L.Ed.2d 59 (1984)). Similarly, in resolving a motion for judgment on the pleadings pursuant to Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(c), the Court must "accept as true the allegations in the opponent's pleadings, and as false all controverted assertions of the movant" and must "accord the benefit of all reasonable inferences to the non-moving party." Haynesworth v. Miller, 820 F.2d 1245, 1249 n. 11 (D.C.Cir.1987).


Notwithstanding the Supreme Court's decision in Rasul that the District Court's dismissal of the petitioners' claims was incorrect as a matter of law, the respondents argue in their October 2004 motion that the Rasul decision resolved only whether individuals detained at Guantanamo Bay had the right merely to allege in a United States District Court under the habeas statute that they are being detained in violation of the Constitution and other laws. Respondents argue that the decision was silent on the issue of whether the detainees actually possess any underlying substantive rights, and they further contend that earlier Supreme Court precedent and the law of this Circuit make clear that the detainees do not hold any such substantive rights. Accordingly, it is the respondents' position that although Rasul clarified that a detainee has every right to file papers in the Clerk's Office alleging violations of the Constitution, statutes, treaties and other laws, and although the Court has jurisdiction to accept the filing and to consider those papers, the Court must not permit the case to proceed beyond a declaration that no underlying substantive rights exist. While the Court would have welcomed a clearer declaration in the Rasul opinion regarding the specific constitutional and other substantive rights of the petitioners, it does not interpret the Supreme Court's decision as narrowly as the respondents suggest it should. To the contrary, the Court interprets Rasul, in conjunction with other precedent, to require the recognition that the detainees at Guantanamo Bay possess enforceable constitutional rights.

The significance and scope of the Rasul decision is best understood after a review of earlier case law addressing the applicability of the Constitution outside of the United States and to individuals who are not American citizens. At the end of the nineteenth century, the Supreme Court interpreted the Constitution to have no applicability outside of the United States, even to activities undertaken by the United States government with respect to American citizens. In Ross v. McIntyre, 140 U.S. 453, 464, 11 S.Ct. 897, 35 L.Ed. 581 (1891), a habeas case involving a U.S. citizen convicted of murder by an American consular tribunal in Japan, the Court declared, "By the constitution a government is ordained and established 'for the United States of America,' and not for countries outside of their limits. The guaranties it affords ... apply only to citizens and others within the United States, or who are brought there for trial for alleged offenses committed elsewhere, and not to residents or temporary sojourners abroad. The constitution can have no operation in another country." 140 U.S. at 464, 11 S.Ct. 897 (citing Cook v. United States 138 U.S. 157, 181, 11 S.Ct. 268, 34 L.Ed. 906 (1891)).

The Supreme Court reexamined this broad declaration beginning a decade later and recognized the potential for a more liberal view of the Constitution's applicability outside of the United States in a line of precedent known as the "Insular Cases." One of the earliest of those cases, Downes v. Bidwell, 182 U.S. 244, 21 S.Ct. 770, 45 L.Ed. 1088 (1901), addressed whether the imposition of duties on products from Puerto Rico after it became a U.S. territory was a violation of the Constitution's Uniformity Clause, which requires that "all duties, imposts, and excises shall be uniform throughout the United States." Art. I, § 8, cl. 2. As part of its analysis, the Court held that the "unincorporated" territory of Puerto Rico--meaning a territory not destined for statehood--was not part of the "United States" and that, as a result, the imposition of duties on Puerto Rican goods did not violate the Constitution. In dicta, the Court acknowledged that Congress had traditionally interpreted the Constitution to apply to territories "only when and so far as Congress shall so direct." 182 U.S. at 278-79, 21 S.Ct. 770. The Court noted the apprehension of "many eminent men" caused by such an interpretation, however, and it described that concern as "a fear lest an unrestrained possession of power on the part of Congress may lead to unjust and oppressive legislation in which the natural rights of territories, or their inhabitants, may be engulfed in a centralized despotism." Id. At 280, 21 S.Ct. 770. Significant to the resolution of the cases brought by the Guantanamo detainees, the Court went on to minimize such concern by suggesting that the Constitution prevented Congress from denying inhabitants of unincorporated U.S. territories certain "fundamental" rights, including "the right to personal liberty ...; to free access to courts of justice, [and] to due process of law." Id. at 282, 21 S.Ct. 770. Because such fundamental rights were not at issue in Downes v. Bidwell, the Court did not address this concept in greater detail at that time.

Three years later, the Court faced more directly the applicability of the Constitution outside of the United States when it resolved whether the defendant in a criminal libel action in a Philippines court was entitled to a trial by jury under Article III and the Sixth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution. Dorr v. United States, 195 U.S. 138, 24 S.Ct. 808, 49 L.Ed. 128 (1904). At the time of the litigation, the United States had control of the Philippines as an unincorporated territory after the conclusion of the Spanish-American War. Congress, however, had enacted legislation expressly exempting application of the U.S. Constitution to the area. The defendant in that case was prosecuted for libel under the previously existing Spanish system and was not permitted a trial by jury. On appeal, the defendant argued that the right to trial by jury was a "fundamental" right guaranteed by the U.S. Constitution and that Congress did not have the power to deny that right by statute. Although the Court ultimately ruled that the Constitution did not require a right to jury trial in the Philippines, it did so only after examining the legal traditions employed in the Philippines prior to annexation as a U.S. territory, the significance of the constitutional right asserted, and the ability of the existing system to accept the burdens of applying new constitutional constraints. In reaching its conclusion that a right to trial by jury was not a "fundamental" right guaranteed outside of the United States, the Court emphasized that the legal system pursuant to which the defendant was prosecuted already provided numerous procedural safeguards, including fact finding by judges, a right of appeal, a right to testify, a right to retain counsel, a right to confront witnesses, a right against self-incrimination, and a right to due process. Id. at 145, 24 S.Ct. 808. After suggesting that a large majority of the population would be unfit to serve as jurors, the Court further noted that recognizing a fundamental constitutional right to a jury trial might, in fact, "work injustice and provoke disturbance rather than ... aid the orderly administration of justice." Id. at 148, 24 S.Ct. 808.*fn25

That holding was reaffirmed in a similar criminal case involving a prosecution for libel in Puerto Rico. Balzac v. People of Porto Rico, 258 U.S. 298, 42 S.Ct. 343, 66 L.Ed. 627 (1922).*fn26 Like the defendant in Dorr, the defendant in the Puerto Rican case claimed his denial of a jury trial violated Article III and the Sixth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution. Unlike the defendant in Dorr, however, the defendant in Balzac was a United States citizen. The Court rejected that this distinction held any significance, reiterating that a right to trial by jury was not a "fundamental" right and emphasizing that U.S. citizens had no constitutional right to a trial by jury in a proceeding outside of the United States. As the Court explained, "It is locality that is determinative of the application of the Constitution, in such matters as judicial procedure, and not the status of the people who live in it." 258 U.S. at 309, 42 S.Ct. 343.

A plurality opinion issued by the Supreme Court in Reid v. Covert, 354 U.S. 1, 77 S.Ct. 1222, 1 L.Ed.2d 1148 (1957) sharply criticized this portion of the Balzac opinion and argued for the further liberalization of the application of the Constitution outside of the United States. Reid involved two wives charged with the capital murders of their husbands. Both men were soldiers in the United States military and were killed at overseas posts, one in England and the other in Japan. The wives, who were American citizens, were tried and convicted abroad by courts martial under the Uniform Code of Military Justice and subsequently sought habeas relief, arguing that as civilians they were entitled under the Constitution to civilian trials. Initially, a majority of the Court ruled in the Japanese case during the previous term that the guarantees of an indictment by grand jury and subsequent jury trial under the Fifth and Sixth Amendments in a prosecution by the United States government did not apply in foreign lands for acts committed outside the United States. Kinsella v. Krueger, 351 U.S. 470, 76 S.Ct. 886, 100 L.Ed. 1342 (1956). Upon further argument and reconsideration the following term, however, the Court overruled its earlier decision, with four Justices subscribing to a plurality opinion and two Justices issuing separate opinions concurring in the result.

The plurality began its analysis of the issues with the following pronouncement, a marked contrast from the language used a half century earlier in Ross:

At the beginning we reject the idea that when the United States acts against citizens abroad it can do so free of the Bill of Rights. The United States is entirely a creature of the Constitution. Its power and authority have no other source. It can only act in accordance with all the limitations imposed by the Constitution. When the Government reaches out to punish a citizen who is abroad, the shield which the Bill of Rights and other parts of the Constitution provide to protect his life and liberty should not be stripped away just because he happens to be in another land. This is not a novel concept. To the contrary, it is as old as government.

354 U.S. at 5-6, 77 S.Ct. 1222 (footnotes omitted). After noting the language of the Fifth Amendment expressly states that "no person" shall be tried for a capital crime without a grand jury indictment and acknowledging that the Sixth Amendment requires that "in all criminal prosecutions" the defendant shall enjoy the right to a speedy and public trial, id. at 7, 77 S.Ct. 1222, the plurality was critical of the narrower, "fundamental rights" approach taken in the previous Insular Cases, at least as applied to U.S. citizens, and explained, "While it has been suggested that only those constitutional rights which are 'fundamental' protect Americans abroad, we can find no warrant, in logic or otherwise, for picking and choosing among the remarkable collection of 'Thou shalt nots' which were explicitly fastened on all departments and agencies of the Federal Government by the Constitution and its Amendments." Id. at 8-9, 77 S.Ct. 1222. The plurality went on to clarify that the "fundamental" rights approach limiting the full application of the Constitution to territories under U.S. control had been intended to avoid disruption of long established practices and to expedite the carrying out of justice in the insular possessions. Id. at 13, 77 S.Ct. 1222. Accordingly, the plurality suggested that any further abridgement of constitutional rights under a "fundamental" rights approach should not be countenanced. They reasoned, "If our foreign commitments become of such nature that the Government can no longer satisfactorily operate within the bounds laid down by the Constitution, that instrument can be amended by the method which it prescribes." Id. at 14, 77 S.Ct. 1222.

In his concurring opinion, Justice Harlan, who had voted to deny habeas relief in the case during the previous term, explained that his change of opinion was based on an increased concern about the fact that the underlying crimes for which the defendants were charged were capital offenses. Id. at 65, 77 S.Ct. 1222. He was careful to emphasize, however, his belief that the Insular Cases still had "vitality," id. at 67, 77 S.Ct. 1222, and that the precedent remained "good authority for the proposition that there is no rigid rule that jury trial must always be provided in the trial of an American overseas, if the circumstances are such that trial by jury would be impractical and anomalous." Id. at 75, 77 S.Ct. 1222 (emphasis in the original). Justice Harlan posited further that the types of constitutional rights that should apply overseas depended on "the particular local setting, the practical necessities, and the possible alternatives." Id. Agreeing with what Justice Frankfurter wrote in a separately concurring opinion, Justice Harlan commented that the issue was analogous to a due process inquiry in which the courts must look to the particular circumstances of a particular case to determine what constitutional safeguards should apply. Id.

Because of the lack of a five Justice majority in Reid, Balzac continues to be interpreted as binding authority. Thus, for example, the Fifth Circuit held that a U.S. citizen charged with distribution of cocaine in the United States District Court for the Canal Zone District at Balboa was not entitled to the nonfundamental rights to a grand jury indictment and to a jury that had the potential to include military personnel. Government of the Canal Zone v. Scott, 502 F.2d 566, 568 (5th Cir.1974) ("non-citizens and citizens of the United States resident in such territories are treated alike, since it is the territorial nature of the Canal Zone and not the citizenship of the defendant that is dispositive"). Indeed, although Reid far from settled the issue of the Constitution's application abroad, it certainly did not weaken the long held doctrine that fundamental constitutional rights cannot be denied in territories under the control of the American government, even where the United States technically is not considered "sovereign" and where the claimant is not a United States citizen.

The District of Columbia Circuit so recognized in a case this Court finds to be particularly relevant to the litigation presently under consideration. Ralpho v. Bell, 569 F.2d 607 (D.C.Cir.1977), required the application of the Fifth Amendment to U.S. government activities in Micronesia, a "Trust Territory" pursuant to a United Nations designation under which the United States acted as administrator. More specifically, the case involved a constitutional challenge to the procedures undertaken by a commission created by Congress to compensate residents who suffered property damage as a result of American military activities against Japan during World War II. The plaintiff in that case owned a home that had been destroyed by the American offensive, and although the commission ultimately awarded compensation, the commission's valuation of the plaintiff's loss was lower than what he had claimed. More significantly, the valuation was based on evidence that the plaintiff was not permitted to examine or rebut. In addressing whether the Due Process Clause of the Fifth Amendment regulated the commission's valuation procedures, the D.C. Circuit expressly recognized that the United States was not technically "sovereign" over Micronesia, 569 F.2d at 619 n. 71, and noted that the exact scope of the Constitution's foreign reach was a "matter of some controversy," commenting on the criticism in the Reid plurality opinion of the more limited "fundamental" rights approach taken in the Insular Cases. Id. at 618 & n. 69. Nonetheless, the court concluded that at a minimum, due process was a "fundamental" right even with respect to property and that "it is settled that 'there cannot exist under the American flag any governmental authority untrammeled by the requirements of due process of law.' " Id. at 618-19 (quoting Calero-Toledo v. Pearson Yacht Leasing Co., 416 U.S. 663, 669 n. 5, 94 S.Ct. 2080, 40 L.Ed.2d 452 (1974)). Thus, the court required the commission to give the plaintiff access to the evidence upon which its decision relied.*fn27

The Supreme Court again tried to bring some clarity to the issue of extraterritorial application of the Constitution when it reviewed the legality of the search and seizure by American government officials of items in the Mexican residence of a Mexican citizen charged with various narcotics-related offenses under U.S. law. United States v. Verdugo-Urquidez, 494 U.S. 259, 110 S.Ct. 1056, 108 L.Ed.2d 222 (1990). Citing language from Reid that "the Constitution imposes substantive constraints on the Federal Government, even when it operates abroad," the Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit had ruled that the Fourth Amendment required the suppression of the evidence gained through the search, notwithstanding its conclusion that a search warrant obtained in the United States would have had no legal validity in Mexico. 856 F.2d 1214, 1218 (9th Cir.1988). The Supreme Court reversed and began its analysis with a comparison of the language in the Fourth Amendment with the terminology in the Fifth and Sixth Amendments, noting that the Fourth Amendment is written to apply to "the people" while the Fifth and Sixth Amendments protect "person[s]" and the "accused." 494 U.S. at 265-66, 110 S.Ct. 1056.

The Court interpreted the linguistic differences as evidence that the drafters of the Fourth Amendment intended it to protect the people of the United States rather than to impose restrictions on the government ...

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