Hamdi v. Rumsfeld

542 U.S. 547 (2004)

Justice O’CONNOR delivered opinion (with other 3 justices= plurality)


  • Hamdi is an American citizen captured in Afghanistan with members of the Northern Alliance 2 months after the September 11, 2001 attacks.
  • He is an alleged member of the Taliban, captured by the Northern Alliance
  • He was transferred to Guantanamo Bay and later to a brig in North Carolina
  • Shortly after the attacks, Congress passed the Authorization for Use of Military force (AUMF) giving the Exec. power to use necessary force to apprehend people connected to the terrorist attacks or any future attacks
  • The Mobbs Declaration is the Government’s only evidence against Hamdi, declaring him a trained member of the Taliban

Procedural History:

  • Hamdi’s father filed a petition for a writ of habeas corpus in June 2002, alleging violation of his son’s 5th and 14th Amendment rights.
  • The Government contends that as an “enemy combatant” Hamdi can be held indefinitely without access to counsel or being charged of a crime
  • The District Court found in favor of Hamdi, appointed him an attorney, and ordered counsel be given access to Hamdi
  • The government moved to dismiss the petition (of h.c.?) and attached to it the Mobbs Declaration (Expert testimony about enemy combatants familiar w/ case) based on hearsay.
  • The District Court found the Mobbs Declaration did not support Hamdi’s detention, and ordered the government to turn over numerous pieces of evidence for in camera review.
  • The Fourth Circuit reversed the lower court decision, concluding the detention was constitutional under the Exec.’s war powers and ordered the habeas corps petition dismissed.


Whether it is constitutional to detain citizen enemy combatants indefinitely & without council

What is the due process for someone who seeks to challenge this characterization?


Anyone (including citizens) who fights under the Taliban is considered an enemy and under the special war time powers afforded the Exec by the AUMF.

The due process for someone who seeks to challenge this characterization is (1) notice and (2) fair chance to be heard before a neutral decision maker. (Hearing with a presumption favoring the government and allowing hearsay)


Even though in times of war citizen enemy combatants cannot be afforded the full protection of habeas corpus and due process, they should be afforded at least with (1) notice and (2) fair chance to be heard before a neutral decision maker. (Hearing with a presumption favoring the government and allowing hearsay)


*To examine the due process for someone who seeks to challenge the characterization as “enemy combatant, there are 2 considerations:

  1. Writ of habeas corpus: all agree that HC has not been suspended and therefore Hamdi is within his legal right in invoking it.
  2. Due Process Clause: needs to be examined in light of Mathews v. Eldridge.

* Due process using Mathews:

  1. The private interest: in this case, liberty, a fundamental interest
  2. The Government’s interests: national security and takes military away from responsibilities.
  3. The risk of error in depriving under the present process and value of additional procedural safeguards: in this case, the court holds that the risk for error is too high with the solution the government proposes, and the trial proposed by Hamdi would be an intolerably high price.

* Balance: notice and hearing with presumption favoring the Government (allowing hearsay)

Court’s Order:

The SC vacates the 4th Circuit judgment and remands



* The only constitutionally permissible thing is to either (1) charge Hamdi with a crime (and give him a criminal trial) or (2) suspend the writ of habeas corpus, but the Executive cannot hold someone indefinitely

* Mathews is not the appropriate standard by which to judge this case

Justice THOMAS:

* Mathews is the correct standard, but applied incorrectly by the court.

* Interests of government outweigh any private interest

New Information, questions, etc:

The risk of error is unacceptably high in the current case and need the balance provided by the hearing with presumption in favor of the government.