Hamdi v. Rumsfeld

542 U.S. 507, 124 S.Ct. 2633 (2004)

Quick Summary

Yaser Hamdi (defendant), a U.S. citizen, was detained by U.S. military as an enemy combatant during operations in Afghanistan. His father filed a habeas corpus petition challenging Hamdi’s indefinite detention without charges or due process.

The case addressed whether Hamdi’s detention was authorized and what due process he was owed. The Supreme Court concluded that while Congress authorized such detentions under certain conditions, due process required that Hamdi have a chance to contest his status before a neutral party.

Facts of the Case

In the aftermath of the September 11 attacks, Congress passed the Authorization for Use of Military Force (AUMF), enabling the President to use force against entities involved in the terrorist activities. Yaser Hamdi (defendant), a U.S. citizen, was captured in Afghanistan under suspicion of allying with the Taliban.

Initially detained in Afghanistan, he was transferred to Guantanamo Bay and then to military brigs in Virginia and South Carolina once his citizenship was confirmed. Hamdi’s father filed a habeas corpus petition, challenging his son’s indefinite detention without charges or due process, asserting violations of the Fifth and Fourteenth Amendments.

The government argued that Hamdi’s classification as an ‘enemy combatant’ allowed his detention without the usual legal proceedings. This case explores the balance between individual rights and national security concerns during wartime.

Procedural Posture and History

  1. The District Court found that Hamdi’s father was a proper next friend and appointed counsel for Hamdi, demanding that the government justify his detention.
  2. The Fourth Circuit Court reversed this decision, emphasizing deference to the government’s security interests and remanding for a more limited review.
  3. On remand, the District Court ordered the government to produce evidence justifying Hamdi’s detention, which was again reversed by the Fourth Circuit.
  4. Hamdi petitioned for certiorari to the United States Supreme Court, which was granted.

I.R.A.C. Format


Whether the Executive Branch has the authority to detain U.S. citizens as enemy combatants without formal charges or proceedings, and what process is constitutionally due to a citizen who contests such detention.

Rule of Law

Congress has authorized the detention of combatants in certain circumstances through the AUMF, but due process requires that a citizen held in the U.S. as an enemy combatant must have a meaningful opportunity to challenge their detention before a neutral decisionmaker.

Reasoning and Analysis

The Supreme Court acknowledged Congress’s authorization under the AUMF for the President to use necessary and appropriate force against individuals associated with terrorist organizations responsible for September 11. The Court recognized that such authorization included detaining enemy combatants to prevent their return to hostilities.

However, it emphasized that detentions must not be indefinite or without the opportunity for detainees to contest their status.

The Court held that while citizenship alone does not grant immunity from detention as an enemy combatant, it does afford due process protections, including the right to contest one’s status before an impartial authority. The plurality opinion stressed that separation of powers principles do not preclude judicial review of executive detentions in this context.


The Supreme Court vacated the Fourth Circuit’s decision and remanded the case, holding that Hamdi must be given a meaningful opportunity to contest his enemy combatant status before a neutral decisionmaker.

Key Takeaways

  1. The AUMF grants the President authority to detain enemy combatants, including U.S. citizens, but such authority is subject to due process requirements.
  2. Citizenship does not preclude detention as an enemy combatant but does guarantee certain due process protections under U.S. law.
  3. The judiciary has a role in ensuring that the executive’s power to detain individuals is exercised within the bounds of the law and respects constitutional protections.

Relevant FAQs of this case

What due process protections apply to a citizen detained by the government?

Due process for a detained citizen includes the right to be heard before a neutral decisionmaker, notice of the charges against them, and the opportunity to present evidence and cross-examine witnesses. In some cases, legal representation may also be ensured.

  • For example: If someone is arrested on suspicion of espionage, they must be informed of the specific allegations and be given an opportunity to refute them before an impartial judge or tribunal.

How does the authorization of military force impact individual rights during wartime?

The authorization of military force allows for certain actions that may temporarily limit individual rights, such as detention without trial, but these measures must still adhere to constitutional protections and international laws concerning human rights.

  • For example: During armed conflict, a civilian may be subjected to curfews or movement restrictions essential for security, but these limitations must comply with the principle of proportionality and not infringe on rights indiscriminately.

What is the judiciary's role in checking the executive's power to detain individuals?

The judiciary acts as a check on the executive’s detention power by reviewing such cases for constitutional validity, ensuring that detentions are lawful, necessary, and proportionate, and by providing recourse for those claiming unlawful detention.

  • For example: If a person is held on national security grounds without evidence, a court can require the executive to justify the detention and potentially order the release of the detainee if the grounds are found insufficient.


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