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Maqaleh v. Gates

April 2, 2009


The opinion of the court was delivered by: John D. Bates United States District Judge


Before the Court are respondents' motions to dismiss these four petitions for habeas corpus. The petitioners are all foreign nationals captured outside Afghanistan yet held at the Bagram Theater Internment Facility at Bagram Airfield in Afghanistan for six years or more. The issue at the heart of these cases is whether these petitioners may, in the wake of Boumediene v. Bush, 128 S.Ct. 2229 (2008), invoke the Suspension Clause of the Constitution, Art I. § 9 cl. 2. If so, then section 7(a) of the Military Commissions Act of 2006 ("MCA"), Pub. L. No. 109-366, 120 Stat. 2600, is unconstitutional as applied to these petitioners and they are entitled to seek the protection of the writ of habeas corpus. But if not, then these petitions must be dismissed as respondents have urged.

The issues here closely parallel those in Boumediene, in large part because the detainees themselves as well as the rationale for detention are essentially the same. The case calls for the first application of the multi-factor functional test crafted by the Supreme Court in Boumediene, and the same vital jurisprudential concerns at play there also frame the analysis here.

It must be remembered, then, that the writ of habeas corpus plays a central role in our constitutional system as conceived by the Framers, which "must inform proper interpretation of the Suspension Clause." Boumediene, 128 S.Ct. at 2244. Indeed, "the Framers deemed the writ to be an essential mechanism in the separation-of-powers scheme," id. at 2246, that, as Alexander Hamilton observed, was vital to the protection of individuals against the very same arbitrary exercise of the government's power to detain that is alleged by petitioners here:

"[C]onfinement of the person, by secretly hurrying him to jail, where his sufferings are unknown or forgotten, is a less public, a less striking, and therefore a more dangerous engine of arbitrary government." And as a remedy for this fatal evil [Blackstone] is everywhere peculiarly emphatical in his encomiums on the habeas corpus act, which in one place he calls "the bulwark of the British Constitution."

Boumediene, 128 S.Ct. at 2247 (quoting The Federalist No. 84, at 512 (Alexander Hamilton) (C. Rossiter ed., 1961) (quoting 1 W. Blackstone, Commentaries *136)) (emphasis in original).

So, too, the Suspension Clause was forged to guard against such Executive abuses, by protecting those detained through the assurance, except in the strictly-confined periods of suspension, that "the Judiciary will have a time-tested device, the writ, to maintain the 'delicate balance of governance' that is itself the surest safeguard of liberty." Boumediene, 128 S.Ct. at 2247 (quoting Hamdi v. Rumsfeld, 542 U.S. 507, 536 (2004) (plurality opinion)). Hence, "[t]he separation-of-powers doctrine . . . must inform the reach and purpose of the Suspension Clause." Id. But that principle requires, as well, that the Judiciary accord proper deference to the political branches, particularly during conflicts abroad where the Executive must retain "substantial authority to apprehend and detain those who pose a real danger to our security." Id. at 2277. In the end, though, while "the Executive's powers as Commander in Chief" must be preserved, the courts still must fulfill their responsibility to review, with appropriate caution, the exercise of those powers:

Within the Constitution's separation-of-powers structure, few exercises of judicial power are as legitimate or as necessary as the responsibility to hear challenges to the authority of the Executive to imprison a person. Some of these petitioners have been in custody for six years with no definitive judicial determination as to the legality of their detention. Their access to the writ is a necessity to determine the lawfulness of their status, even if, in the end, they do not obtain the relief they seek.


This Court's role, and this decision, is nonetheless quite narrow, and is limited today to assessing whether the Suspension Clause extends to these four petitioners and hence whether they are entitled to seek habeas corpus in this Court. Applying the Boumediene factors carefully, the Court concludes that these petitioners are virtually identical to the detainees in Boumediene --they are non-citizens who were (as alleged here) apprehended in foreign lands far from the United States and brought to yet another country for detention. And as in Boumediene, these petitioners have been determined to be "enemy combatants," a status they contest. Moreover, the process used to make that determination is inadequate and, indeed, significantly less than the Guantanamo detainees in Boumediene received. Although the site of detention at Bagram is not identical to that at Guantanamo Bay, the "objective degree of control" asserted by the United States there is not appreciably different than at Guantanamo. Finally, it cannot be denied that the "practical obstacles" inherent in resolving a Bagram detainee's entitlement to habeas corpus are in some ways greater than those present for a Guantanamo detainee, because Bagram is located in an active theater of war. But those obstacles are not as great as respondents claim, and certainly are not insurmountable. And importantly, for these petitioners, such practical barriers are largely of the Executive's choosing -- they were all apprehended elsewhere and then brought (i.e., rendered) to Bagram for detention now exceeding six years.

Based on those conclusions driven by application of the Boumediene test, the Court concludes that the Suspension Clause extends to, and hence habeas corpus review is available to, three of the four petitioners. As to the fourth, his Afghan citizenship -- given the unique "practical obstacles" in the form of friction with the "host" country -- is enough to tip the balance of the Boumediene factors against his claim to habeas corpus review. When a Bagram detainee has either been apprehended in Afghanistan or is a citizen of that country, the balance of factors may change. Although it may seem odd that different conclusions can be reached for different detainees at Bagram, in this Court's view that is the predictable outcome of the functional, multi-factor, detainee-by-detainee test the Supreme Court has mandated in Boumediene.


All four petitioners in these cases have been detained as "enemy combatants" by the United States at the Bagram Theater Internment Facility at Bagram Airfield in Afghanistan ("Bagram"). All four claim to have been captured outside Afghanistan and contest their designation as enemy combatants.*fn1 Fadi al Maqaleh, a Yemeni citizen who was taken into U.S. custody sometime in 2003, filed a petition for a writ of habeas corpus on September 28, 2006. Maqaleh Am. Habeas Pet. ¶¶ 11, 14. He claims that he was captured beyond Afghan borders but does not specify where. Id. ¶¶ 24-25. Haji Wazir, an Afghan citizen, filed a habeas petition on September 29, 2006.*fn2 Wazir Habeas Pet. ¶ 2. Wazir was captured in Dubai, United Arab Emirates in 2002 and has been in U.S. custody since. See Declaration of Jawed Ahmad ¶ 31 (attached as Exhibit 1 to Wazir Opp'n to Resps.' Mot. to Dismiss ("Wazir Opp'n")). Amin al Bakri is a Yemeni citizen, captured by U.S. forces in Thailand in 2002, who filed a petition seeking habeas review on July 28, 2008. Bakri Habeas Pet. ¶¶ 2-3. Redha al-Najar filed a habeas petition on December 10, 2008. Al-Najar is a citizen of Tunisia who was captured in Pakistan in 2002. Al-Najar Habeas Pet. ¶¶ 12, 25.

Respondents dispute some of the facts alleged in the habeas petitions. Although respondents do not contest any petitioner's claim as to his country of citizenship, they do take issue with some petitioners' statements as to the place of their capture. For example, respondents contest al Maqaleh's claim that he was captured outside Afghanistan. See Declaration of Charles A. Tennison ¶ 20 (attached as Exhibit 1 to Resps.' Mot. to Dismiss al Maqaleh's Habeas Pet. ("Resps.' Maqaleh Mot.")).

After al Maqaleh and Wazir filed their habeas petitions, but before al Bakri and al-Najar filed their petitions, the Supreme Court decided Boumediene v. Bush, 128 S.Ct. 2229 (2008).*fn3

In that case, the Supreme Court considered habeas petitions filed by "aliens designated as enemy combatants and detained at the United States Naval Station at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba." Id. at 2240. The Court first determined that section 7 of the MCA "deprives the federal courts of jurisdiction to entertain the habeas corpus actions now before us." Id. at 2242-44. The Court then examined "whether [petitioners] have the constitutional privilege of habeas corpus, a privilege not to be withdrawn except in conformance with the Suspension Clause." Id. at 2240. In a lengthy five-to-four opinion, the Supreme Court first determined that the Suspension Clause of the Constitution has "full effect" at Guantanamo Bay and detainees at Guantanamo "are entitled to the privilege of habeas corpus to challenge the legality of their detention." Id. at 2262. The Court then held that the process Guantanamo detainees receive pursuant to the Detainee Treatment Act of 2005 ("DTA"), Pub. L. No. 109-148, 119 Stat. 2739, is not an adequate substitute for habeas review. Id. at 2262-74. Hence, the Court "h[e]ld these petitioners do have the habeas corpus privilege . . . [and t]herefore § 7 of the [MCA] operates as an unconstitutional suspension of the writ." Id. at 2240.

After Boumediene, respondents filed the pending motions to dismiss these petitioners' habeas petitions for lack of jurisdiction, and the parties filed opposition and reply memoranda. The Court consolidated the four cases for argument on the jurisdictional issue and held a motions hearing on January 7, 2009, in which petitioners were represented by able counsel. Because of the change in the Presidential Administration, the Court on January 22, 2009 invited respondents to notify the Court whether they intended to refine the position that they had taken to date. On February 20, 2009, respondents informed the Court that "the Government adheres to its previously articulated position." See Al Maqaleh v. Gates, Civ.A.No. 06-1669 (dkt ent. #30). Hence, the issues are fully briefed and ripe for resolution. As the analysis below makes clear, the application of the Supreme Court's Boumediene decision to these four petitioners is at the center of these cases and respondents' motion.


"[R]esponding to a habeas petition with a motion to dismiss is common practice." White v. Lewis, 874 F.2d 599, 603 (9th Cir.1989) (citing Murray v. Carrier, 477 U.S. 478, 483 (1986)). A motion to dismiss for lack of subject matter jurisdiction in habeas cases, like jurisdictional motions in other civil cases, is subject to review under the standards of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure. See Rasul v. Bush, 215 F. Supp. 2d 55, 61 (D.D.C. 2002), aff'd, Al Odah v. United States, 321 F.3d 1134 (D.C. Cir. 2003), rev'd on other grounds, Rasul v. Bush, 542 U.S. 466 (2004) (applying Fed. R. Civ. P. 12(b)(1) to the government's motion to dismiss a pending habeas petition on jurisdictional grounds); see also In re Guantanamo Detainee Cases, 355 F. Supp. 2d 443, 453 (D.D.C. 2005), vacated, Boumediene v. Bush, 476 F.3d 981 (D.C. Cir. 2007), rev'd, Boumediene v. Bush, 128 S.Ct. 2229 (2008) ("The respondents . . . 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).").

Under Rule 12(b)(1), those seeking to invoke the jurisdiction of a federal court --petitioners here -- bear the burden of establishing that the court has jurisdiction. See US Ecology, Inc. v. U.S. Dep't of Interior, 231 F.3d 20, 24 (D.C. Cir. 2000) (citing Steel Co. v. Citizens for a Better Env't, 523 U.S. 83, 103-04 (1998)); see also Grand Lodge of Fraternal Order of Police v. Ashcroft, 185 F. Supp. 2d 9, 13 (D.D.C. 2001) ("[A] Rule 12(b)(1) motion imposes on the court an affirmative obligation to ensure that it is acting within the scope of its jurisdictional authority."); Pitney Bowes, Inc. v. U.S. Postal Serv., 27 F. Supp. 2d 15, 19 (D.D.C. 1998). Although a court must accept as true all of petitioners' factual allegations when reviewing a motion to dismiss pursuant to Rule 12(b)(1), see Leatherman v. Tarrant Cty. Narcotics Intelligence & Coordination Unit, 507 U.S. 163, 164 (1993), "'factual allegations . . . will bear closer scrutiny in resolving a 12(b)(1) motion' than in resolving a 12(b)(6) motion for failure to state a claim." Grand Lodge, 185 F. Supp. 2d at 13-14 (quoting 5A Charles Alan Wright & Arthur R. Miller, Federal Practice and Procedure § 1350 (2d ed. 1990)). At the stage of litigation when dismissal is sought, a petitioner's habeas petition must be construed liberally, and the petitioner should receive the benefit of all favorable inferences that can be drawn from the alleged facts. See EEOC v. St. Francis Xavier Parochial Sch., 117 F.3d 621, 624 (D.C. Cir. 1997). Additionally, a court may consider material other than the allegations in the habeas petition in determining whether it has jurisdiction to hear the case, so long as it still accepts the factual allegations in the habeas petition as true. See Jerome Stevens Pharmaceuticals, Inc. v. FDA, 402 F.3d 1249, 1253-54 (D.C. Cir. 2005); St. Francis Xavier Parochial Sch., 117 F.3d at 624-25 n.3; Herbert v. Nat'l Acad. of Scis., 974 F.2d 192, 197 (D.C. Cir. 1992).


Respondents seek to dismiss these four habeas petitions for lack of jurisdiction. Petitioners oppose respondents' motions on several grounds, arguing that: (1) this Court has statutory jurisdiction to entertain these habeas petitions under 28 U.S.C. § 2241, see al Maqaleh Opp'n to Resps.' Mot. to Dismiss ("Maqaleh Opp'n") at 17-21; (2) the MCA unconstitutionally suspends habeas rights without providing an adequate substitute, see id. at 23-31, 33-58; (3) MCA § 7 works an unconstitutional usurpation of the judiciary's Article III powers, see id. at 21-23; (4) MCA § 7 is an unconstitutional "permanent" suspension of the writ of habeas corpus, see id. at 23-31; (5) petitioners have not had their status determined by a "competent tribunal" pursuant to MCA § 3, see id. at 31-33; and (6) petitioners' detention violates the rule of law, the Constitution, and international law, see id. at 58-68. The Court will begin by addressing petitioner's first argument: whether federal courts have statutory jurisdiction under § 2241. Petitioner's second argument presents the key issue in these cases, and the Court accordingly devotes the majority of the analysis to it. The Court will then briefly address petitioners' remaining four arguments.

I. Statutory Habeas Jurisdiction Under 28 U.S.C. § 2241

Petitioners argue that this Court has statutory jurisdiction under 28 U.S.C. § 2241. Resolution of this argument requires some familiarity with the cases and statutes leading to the Supreme Court's opinion in Boumediene. See generally Bismullah v. Gates, 551 F.3d 1068, 1073-74 (D.C. Cir. 2009) (reviewing cases and statutes leading to Boumediene). The first Supreme Court case to address the rights of detainees held at Guantanamo Bay was Rasul v. Bush, 542 U.S. 466 (2004). In Rasul, the Supreme Court held that alien detainees designated as enemy combatants could invoke the federal habeas statute, 28 U.S.C. § 2241, to challenge their detention at Guantanamo. The same day, the Supreme Court issued a decision in Hamdi v. Rumsfeld, 542 U.S. 507 (2004), which focused on the due process rights of U.S. citizens detained as enemy combatants. The following year, in response to the Supreme Court's rulings, Congress passed the Detainee Treatment Act of 2005 ("DTA"), Pub. L. No. 109-148, 119 Stat. 2739, which mandates humane treatment of detainees and sets forth a process for testing the legality of detention. See DTA §§ 1002-03, 1005(e)(2). The DTA also amended the federal habeas statute by stripping federal courts of jurisdiction to entertain habeas petitions filed by Guantanamo detainees. Id. § 1005(e)(1). But the next year, the Supreme Court decided Hamdan v. Rumsfeld, 548 U.S. 557, 575-76 (2006), which held, among other things, that the DTA could not be applied retroactively to bar habeas petitions pending at the time of the DTA's enactment. Within a few months, however, Congress passed the Military Commissions Act of 2006 ("MCA"), Pub. L. No. 109-366, 120 Stat. 2600. In section 7(a), Congress again amended the federal habeas statute to read as follows:

(e)(1) No court, justice, or judge shall have jurisdiction to hear or consider an application for a writ of habeas corpus filed by or on behalf of an alien detained by the United States who has been determined by the United States to have been properly detained as an enemy combatant or is awaiting such determination.

28 U.S.C. § 2241(e)(1). And, in direct response to Hamdan, the MCA provides in section 7(b) that the jurisdiction-stripping provision "shall take effect on the date of the enactment of this Act, and shall apply to all cases, without exception, pending on or after the date of the enactment of this Act . . . ." When Boumediene came before the Supreme Court in 2008, the central issue was the constitutionality of § 2241, as amended by MCA § 7(a). As discussed at length in the section that follows, the Boumediene Court struck down MCA § 7(a) as an unconstitutional suspension of the writ of habeas corpus.

According to petitioners, Boumediene was a facial invalidation of MCA § 7, thereby "fully restor[ing] this Court's jurisdiction" under § 2241. See al Bakri Opp'n to Resps.' Mot. to Dismiss ("Bakri Opp'n") at 11. The § 2241 inquiry, petitioners maintain, is governed by Rasul's holding that federal district courts have statutory jurisdiction to hear habeas petitions filed by aliens and citizens held by the United States at Guantanamo. Because the United States controls Bagram to the same degree that it controls Guantanamo, the argument goes, Rasul applies with equal force to the pending petitions here. Respondents counter that Boumediene was an "as applied" rejection of MCA § 7, not a facial one, so § 2241(e) remains in force as to detainees held as "enemy combatants" at Bagram. See Resps.' Reply in Support of Mot. to Dismiss al Bakri's Habeas Pet. ("Resps.' Bakri Rep.") 1-4. Under the plain language of § 2241(e)(1), as modified by MCA § 7(a), federal district courts lack habeas jurisdiction over "an alien detained by the United States who has . . . been properly detained as an enemy combatant." Because § 2241(e)(1) on its face strips federal courts of jurisdiction to consider Bagram detainees' habeas petitions, the outcome depends on whether Boumediene was an as applied or a facial rejection of MCA § 7. Only if it was a facial rejection may the Court ignore the clear language of the statute.

Fairly read, Boumediene was an as applied rejection of MCA § 7. To be sure, the Supreme Court framed the issue in general terms -- i.e., whether aliens held in "distant countries" could invoke the Suspension Clause. 128 S.Ct at 2248. And the Supreme Court did not specifically mention Guantanamo each time it announced an aspect of its holding. But to interpret Boumediene as a facial repudiation of MCA § 7 would not only require a selective reading of the Supreme Court's opinion, it would also require this Court to ignore the history preceding the Supreme Court's holding.

Boumediene was focused on the habeas rights of detainees held at Guantanamo. The Supreme Court examined the history of the U.S. presence at Guantanamo, see 128 S.Ct. at 2251-52, the degree of U.S. control at Guantanamo, see id. at 2260-61, and the practical obstacles of extending habeas rights to Guantanamo, see id. at 2261. The Supreme Court did not examine those very fact-specific factors with regard to any other place the United States presently operates or confines detainees. When the Supreme Court did examine other historical sites of detention, like Landsberg Prison in post-World War II Germany, it only did so to compare those historical sites to Guantanamo. See id. Indeed, the Supreme Court specifically observed that it might reach a different outcome if the site of detention was someplace other than Guantanamo. Id. at 2261-62. Hence, to infer that Boumediene rejected MCA § 7 worldwide would be to ignore the Supreme Court's unmistakably Guantanamo-specific analysis.

The conclusion that Boumediene only assessed the constitutionality of MCA § 7 as applied to Guantanamo is inescapable when the case is viewed in context. Beginning with Rasul and Hamdi, and then continuing with Hamdan, the decision in Boumediene is the latest in a series of landmark Supreme Court opinions addressing the habeas rights of detainees held at Guantanamo. Neither Rasul, Hamdi, nor Hamdan considered other sites of detention. Under petitioners' reading, Boumediene not only held -- for the first time -- that the Suspension Clause extends to a foreign country where the United States does not exercise de jure sovereignty, but took that ground-breaking step well beyond the cases that framed that important constitutional question. The Supreme Court has time and again stated its preference for "partial, rather than facial, invalidation." Ayotte v. Planned Parenthood, 546 U.S. 320, 328-29 (2006) (quoting Brockett v. Spokane Arcades, Inc., 472 U.S. 491, 504 (1985)). Hence, this Court will not adopt the far-reaching interpretation of Boumediene that petitioners advance. Because the Court interprets Boumediene as a rejection of MCA § 7 as it applies to Guantanamo specifically, rather than a broader facial rejection, MCA § 7 (and, therefore, § 2241(e)(1)) continues to deprive this Court of statutory jurisdiction over habeas petitions filed by Bagram detainees. Absent statutory habeas corpus jurisdiction, petitioners must look to the constitutional right to habeas corpus as protected by the Suspension Clause, and whether that provision extends to them. The question, then, is whether the statute withdrawing habeas corpus jurisdiction is constitutional as applied to these detainees held at Bagram.

II. The Reach of the Suspension Clause to Bagram

The specific constitutional question posed by these four cases is whether petitioners --foreign nationals designated as enemy combatants, captured and held abroad at Bagram -- are entitled to invoke the protections of the writ of habeas corpus in U.S. courts. This is essentially the same "specific question" the Supreme Court faced in Boumediene: "whether foreign nationals, apprehended and detained in distant countries during a time of serious threats to our Nation's security, may assert the privilege of the writ and seek its protections." 128 S.Ct. at 2248. And that question involves at its core the issue of the reach of the Suspension Clause, just as it did in Boumediene. The facts may vary from petitioner to petitioner, but the only material difference between the petitioners in Boumediene and the petitioners here is where they are held -- at the military base at Guantanamo Bay in Cuba or at the Bagram Theater Internment Facility at Bagram Airfield in Afghanistan.

The Boumediene Court conducted a far-reaching historical exegesis of the writ of habeas corpus and the Suspension Clause. The Court began with the Framers' original intent, surveying English habeas jurisprudence pre-dating the Constitution. Id. at 2244-47. The Court then turned to "founding-era authorities" addressing the scope of the Suspension Clause, finding them too muddled and too incomplete "to infer too much, one way or the other, from the lack of historical evidence on point." Id. at 2248-51. Finally, the Court weighed its own precedent assessing extraterritorial application of the Constitution -- cases like the Insular Cases,*fn4 Johnson v. Eisentrager, 339 U.S. 763 (1950), and Reid v. Covert, 354 U.S. 1 (1957). See Boumediene, 128 S.Ct. at 2253-58. The Court concluded that some cases from this venerable array -- especially Eisentrager -- helped inform its analysis. Id. But no case was so on point as to allow the Court simply to apply established precedent. Instead, the Court constructed a new framework to address the specific question it ...

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