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Context of 'December 2001: US Citizen Captured in Afghanistan, Declared to Be ‘Enemy Combatant’'

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Chief Justice Fred Vinson.Chief Justice Fred Vinson. [Source: Kansas State Historical Society]The US Supreme Court upholds the power of the federal government’s executive branch to withhold documents from a civil suit on the basis of executive privilege and national security (see October 25, 1952). The case, US v Reynolds, overturns an appellate court decision that found against the government (see December 11, 1951). Originally split 5-4 on the decision, the Court goes to 6-3 when Justice William O. Douglas joins the majority. The three dissenters, Justices Hugo Black, Felix Frankfurter, and Robert Jackson, refuse to write a dissenting opinion, instead adopting the decision of the appellate court as their dissent.
'State Secrets' a Valid Reason for Keeping Documents out of Judicial, Public Eye - Chief Justice Fred Vinson writes the majority opinion. Vinson refuses to grant the executive branch the near-unlimited power to withhold documents from judicial review, as the government’s arguments before the court implied (see October 21, 1952), but instead finds what he calls a “narrower ground for defense” in the Tort Claims Act, which compels the production of documents before a court only if they are designated “not privileged.” The government’s claim of privilege in the Reynolds case was valid, Vinson writes. But the ruling goes farther; Vinson upholds the claim of “state secrets” as a reason for withholding documents from judicial review or public scrutiny. In 2008, author Barry Siegel will write: “In truth, only now was the Supreme Court formally recognizing the privilege, giving the government the precedent it sought, a precedent binding on all courts throughout the nation. Most important, the Court was also—for the first time—spelling out how the privilege should be applied.” Siegel will call the Reynolds ruling “an effort to weigh competing legitimate interests,” but the ruling does not allow judges to see the documents in order to make a decision about their applicability in a court case: “By instructing judges not to insist upon examining documents if the government can satisfy that ‘a reasonable danger’ to national security exists, Vinson was asking jurists to fly blind.” Siegel will mark the decision as “an act of faith. We must believe the government,” he will write, “when it claims [the accident] would reveal state secrets. We must trust that the government is telling the truth.”
Time of Heightened Tensions Drives Need for Secrecy - Vinson goes on to note, “[W]e cannot escape judicial notice that this is a time of vigorous preparation for the national defense.” Locked in the Cold War with the Soviet Union, and fighting a war in Korea, the US is, Vinson writes, in a time of crisis, and one where military secrets must be kept and even encouraged. [U. S. v. Reynolds, 3/9/1953; Siegel, 2008, pp. 171-176]
Future Ramifications - Reflecting on the decision in 2008, Siegel will write that while the case will not become as well known as many other Court decisions, it will wield significant influence. The ruling “formally recognized and established the framework for the government’s ‘state secrets’ privilege—a privilege that for decades had enabled federal agencies to conceal conduct, withhold documents, and block civil litigation, all in the name of national secrecy.… By encouraging judicial deference when the government claimed national security secrets, Reynolds had empowered the Executive Branch in myriad ways. Among other things, it had provided a fundamental legal argument for much of the Bush administration’s response to the 9/11 terrorist attacks. Enemy combatants such as Yaser Esam Hamdi (see December 2001) and Jose Padilla (see June 10, 2002), for many months confined without access to lawyers, had felt the breath of Reynolds. So had the accused terrorist Zacarias Moussaoui when federal prosecutors defied a court order allowing him access to other accused terrorists (see March 22, 2005). So had the Syrian-Canadian Maher Arar (see September 26, 2002), like dozens of others the subject of a CIA extraordinary rendition to a secret foreign prison (see After September 11, 2001). So had hundreds of detainees at the US Navy Base at Guantanamo Bay, held without charges or judicial review (see September 27, 2001). So had millions of American citizens, when President Bush, without judicial knowledge or approval, authorized domestic eavesdropping by the National Security Agency (see Early 2002). US v. Reynolds made all this possible. The bedrock of national security law, it had provided a way for the Executive Branch to formalize an unprecedented power and immunity, to pull a veil of secrecy over its actions.” [Siegel, 2008, pp. ix-x]

Entity Tags: William O. Douglas, Zacarias Moussaoui, US Supreme Court, Yaser Esam Hamdi, Robert Jackson, Jose Padilla, Felix Frankfurter, Bush administration (43), Fred Vinson, Barry Siegel, George W. Bush, Hugo Black, Maher Arar

Timeline Tags: Civil Liberties

Yaser Esam Hamdi in Afghanistan shortly after being captured there.Yaser Esam Hamdi in Afghanistan shortly after being captured there. [Source: Virginian Pilot]Yaser Esam Hamdi, who holds dual Saudi and US citizenship, is captured in Afghanistan by the Northern Alliance and handed over to US forces. According to the US government, at the time of his arrest, Hamdi carries a Kalashnikov assault rifle and is traveling with a Taliban military unit. The following month he will be transferred to Guantanamo. In April 2002, it will be discovered he is a US citizen. He will be officially be declared an “enemy combatant” and transferred to a Navy brig in Norfolk, Virginia (see April 2002). [CNN, 10/14/2004]

Entity Tags: Yaser Esam Hamdi

Timeline Tags: Torture of US Captives, Complete 911 Timeline, War in Afghanistan

Yaser Esam Hamdi, detained at Guantanamo in January 2002, is discovered to be a US citizen. He is thereupon officially declared an “enemy combatant” and transferred to the Navy brig in Norfolk, Virginia. [CNN, 10/14/2004]

Entity Tags: Yaser Esam Hamdi

Timeline Tags: Torture of US Captives

In a court brief in the detention case of Yaser Esam Hamdi (see December 2001), the Bush Justice Department argues against a judge’s decision that Hamdi, a US citizen, must be allowed representation by a lawyer (see June 11, 2002). Though that right is a fundamental precept of American jurisprudence, the Justice Department argues that to allow Hamdi to have access to a lawyer—indeed, to have any contact with the outside world—would interfere with his interrogation. Moreover, only the president and his officials can decide who is and who is not a terrorist, so the courts have no right to demand access to evidence and Hamdi has no need for a lawyer. “The courts may not second-guess the military’s enemy combatant determination,” the Bush lawyers argue. “Going beyond that determination would require the courts to enter an area in which they have no competence, much less institutional expertise, [and] intrude upon the constitutional prerogative of the commander in chief (and military authorities acting under his control).” The appeals court will rule in favor of the Bush administration’s argument, deny Hamdi access to a lawyer, and instruct the lower courts to be far more deferential to the president’s power as commander in chief in future cases (see July 12, 2002). [UNITED STATES COURT OF APPEALS FOR THE FOURTH CIRCUIT, 6/12/2002 pdf file; Savage, 2007, pp. 152-153]

Entity Tags: Bush administration (43), Yaser Esam Hamdi, US Department of Justice

Timeline Tags: Civil Liberties

As Bush administration lawyers warn that Vice President Cheney and his Pentagon allies are setting the government up for defeat in the courts with their hardline advice on interrogation techniques (see Late 2001-Early 2002, January 25, 2002, April 2002 and After, and August 1, 2002) and indefinite detentions (see After September 11, 2001 and December 2001-January 2002), one of the uneasiest of Justice Department lawyers is Solicitor General Theodore Olson. Cheney and Olson have similar views on the expansion of presidential powers, but his job in the administration is to win court cases. Olson is not sure that Cheney’s legal arguments are tenable. Olson is particularly worried about two pending cases, those of US citizens Jose Padilla (see June 10, 2002) and Yaser Esam Hamdi (see December 2001 and August 16, 2002). Both have been declared enemy combatants and denied access to lawyers. Olson warns that federal courts will not go along with that provision, but he finds himself opposed by CIA and Pentagon officials. When Olson and other lawyers propose that Padilla and Hamdi be granted lawyers, Cheney’s chief lawyer, David Addington, beats back their proposal because, says deputy White House counsel Timothy Flanigan, “that was the position of his client, the vice president.” The issue comes to a head in the West Wing office of Alberto Gonzales, the White House’s chief legal counsel. Four officials with direct knowledge of the meeting later recall the chain of events. Olson has the support of associate White House counsel Bradford Berenson, a former law clerk to Supreme Court Justice Anthony Kennedy. Berenson says that Kennedy, the Court’s swing vote, will never accept absolute presidential authority to declare a US citizen an enemy and lock him away without benefit of counsel. Another former Kennedy law clerk, White House lawyer Brett Kavanaugh, had made the same argument earlier. Addington, representing Cheney in the meeting, accuses Berenson of surrendering presidential authority on what he calls a fool’s prophecy about the Court; Berenson retorts by accusing Addington of “know-nothingness.” Gonzales listens quietly as the Justice Department and his own staff line up against Addington. He finally makes a decision: in favor of Cheney and Addington. [Washington Post, 6/25/2007]

Entity Tags: US Department of Defense, Brett Kavanaugh, Bradford Berenson, Alberto R. Gonzales, Central Intelligence Agency, Theodore (“Ted”) Olson, David S. Addington, Richard (“Dick”) Cheney, US Department of Justice, Jose Padilla, Yaser Esam Hamdi, Timothy E. Flanigan

Timeline Tags: Civil Liberties

A Pentagon report determines that conditions at the detention facilities at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, and Charleston, South Carolina used to house “enemy combatants” are problematic at best. The facilities house three designated enemy combatants: Jose Padilla (see May 8, 2002), Yaser Esam Hamdi (see December 2001), and Ali Saleh Kahlah al-Marri (see December 12, 2001). The report, entitled “Brief to the Secretary of Defense on Treatment of Enemy Combatants Detained at Naval Station Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, and Naval Consolidated Brig Charleston,” is written by the Navy’s Vice Admiral A.T. Church III and by Marine Brigadier General D.D. Thiessen. The focus of the report is to “[e]nsure Department of Defense orders concerning proper treatment of enemy combatants.” The report documents extensive problems at both locations. It cites the following as some of the problems:
bullet “One detainee has Koran removed from cell as part of JFCOM [Joint Forces Command] interrogation plan. Muslim chaplain not available.”
bullet “One detainee in Charleston has mattress removed as part of JFCOM-approved interrogation plan.”
bullet “One detainee in each location currently not authorized ICRC [Red Cross] visits due to interrogation plans in progress.”
bullet “One detainee in Charleston has Koran, mattress, and pillow removed and is fed cold MREs as part of interrogation plan.” This citation has a footnote that reads, “After completion of current interrogation,” removal of the Koran as an incentive to answer questions “will no longer be used at Charleston.”
bullet “Limited number and unique status of detainees in Charleston precludes interaction with other detainees. Argument could be made that this constitutes isolation.”
bullet At the Charleston brig, “Christian chaplain used to provide socialization, but could be perceived as forced proselytization.”
Nonetheless, the report concludes, “No evidence of noncompliance with DoD orders at either facility.” The authors assume that “treatment provided for in presidential and SECDEF orders constitutes ‘humane treatment.’” [Progressive, 3/2007] When Church presents his report to journalists (see May 12, 2004), he says he only found eight “minor infractions.”

Entity Tags: US Department of Defense, Jose Padilla, D.D. Thiessen, Ali Saleh Kahlah al-Marri, Albert T. Church III, Yaser Esam Hamdi

Timeline Tags: Torture of US Captives

Yaser Esam Hamdi.Yaser Esam Hamdi. [Source: Associated Press]In the case of Yaser Esam Hamdi v. Donald Rumsfeld, the Supreme Court rules 8-1 that, contrary to the government’s position, Hamdi (see December 2001), as a US citizen held inside the US, cannot be held indefinitely and incommunicado without an opportunity to challenge his detention. It rules he has the right to be given the opportunity to challenge the basis for his detention before an impartial court. Justice Sandra Day O’Connor writes for the majority: “It would turn our system of checks and balances on its head to suggest that a citizen could not make his way to court with a challenge to the factual basis for his detention by his government, simply because the Executive opposes making available such a challenge. Absent suspension of the writ by Congress, a citizen detained as an enemy combatant is entitled to this process.” Hamdi, on the other hand, apart from military interrogations and “screening processes,” has received no process. Due process, according to a majority of the Court, “demands some system for a citizen detainee to refute his classification [as enemy combatant].” A “citizen-detainee… must receive notice of the factual basis for his classification, and a fair opportunity to rebut the government’s factual assertions before a neutral decision-maker.” However, O’Connor writes, “an interrogation by one’s captor… hardly constitutes a constitutionally adequate factfinding before a neutral decisionmaker.”
Conservative Dissent: President Has Inherent Power to Detain Citizens during War - Only Justice Clarence Thomas affirms the government’s opinion, writing, “This detention falls squarely within the federal government’s war powers, and we lack the expertise and capacity to second-guess that decision.” [Supreme Court opinion on writ of certiorari. Shafiq Rasul, et al. v. George W. Bush, et al., 6/28/2004] Thomas adds: “The Founders intended that the president have primary responsibility—along with the necessary power—to protect the national security and to conduct the nation’s foreign relations. They did so principally because the structural advantages of a unitary executive are essential in these domains.” [Dean, 2007, pp. 105]
'A State of War Is Not a Blank Check for the President' - The authority to hold Hamdi and other such US citizens captured on enemy battlefields derives from Congress’s Authorization to Use Military Force (AUMF—see September 14-18, 2001). Justice Antonin Scalia dissents from this portion of the majority ruling, saying that because Congress had not suspended habeas corpus, Hamdi should either be charged with a crime or released. The Court also finds that if Hamdi was indeed a missionary and not a terrorist, as both he and his father claim, then he must be freed. While the Court does not grant Hamdi the right to a full criminal trial, it grants him the right to a hearing before a “neutral decision-maker” to challenge his detention. O’Connor writes: “It is during our most challenging and uncertain moments that our nation’s commitment to due process is most severely tested; and it is in these times that we must preserve our commitment at home to the principles for which we fight abroad.… We have long made clear that a state of war is not a blank check for the president when it comes to the rights of the nation’s citizens.”
Affirms President's Right to Hold US Citizens Indefinitely - Although the media presents the ruling as an unmitigated defeat for the Bush administration, it is actually far more mixed. The White House is fairly pleased with the decision, insamuch as Hamdi still has no access to civilian courts; the administration decides that Hamdi’s “neutral decision-maker” will be a panel of military officers. Hamdi will not have a lawyer, nor will he have the right to see the evidence against him if it is classified. This is enough to satisfy the Court’s ruling, the White House decides. In 2007, author and reporter Charlie Savage will write: “[T]he administration’s legal team noted with quiet satisfaction that, so long as some kind of minimal hearing was involved, the Supreme Court had just signed off on giving presidents the wartime power to hold a US citizen without charges or a trial—forever.” The Justice Department says of the ruling that it is “pleased that the [Court] today upheld the authority of the president as commander in chief of the armed forces to detain enemy combatants, including US citizens.… This power, which was contested by lawyers representing individuals captured in the War on Terror, is one of the most essential authorities the US Constitution grants the president to defend America from our enemies.” [Savage, 2007, pp. 193-194]

Entity Tags: Sandra Day O’Connor, Antonin Scalia, Donald Rumsfeld, Yaser Esam Hamdi, Clarence Thomas, Charlie Savage

Timeline Tags: Torture of US Captives, Complete 911 Timeline, Civil Liberties

Congress passes a defense spending bill with controversial provisions authorizing the indefinite military detention, or rendering to a foreign country or entity, without charge or trial, of any person, including US citizens, detained, arrested, or captured anywhere in the world, including the US. The bill is the 2012 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) (H.R. 1540 and S. 1867). [GovTrack, 12/31/2012] The NDAA created controversy soon after the indefinite detention provisions were revealed (see July 6, 2011 and after). Civil liberties and human rights advocates raised concerns about sections 1026, 1027, and 1028, which restrict transfers and releases of prisoners from the US prison at Guantanamo, including those found to be innocent, but the most controversial parts of the bill are Sections 1021 and 1022, which provide for indefinite military detention. A federal judge will later issue a preliminary injunction barring enforcement of Section 1021, finding it unconstitutional (see May 16, 2012). [Verdict, 12/21/2011]
Detention Authorities Currently Unclear, Not Settled by NDAA - The Supreme Court ruled by plurality in Hamdi v. Rumsfeld (2004) (see June 28, 2004 that Yaser Esam Hamdi, a US citizen captured by the Northern Alliance in Afghanistan and alleged to have been armed and traveling with a Taliban unit (see December 2001), could be held by the military without charge or trial until the end of hostilities authorized by the 2001 Authorization for Use of Military Force (AUMF). In other circumstances, such as persons not engaged in armed combat with US forces, or persons arrested or captured away from a battlefield, or inside the United States, the rights of prisoners and the legality of indefinite military detention are unsettled issues, and the NDAA provides no clarification. The AUMF makes no reference to the detention of prisoners or military operations inside the United States, but both the Bush and Obama administrations have consistently interpreted language giving the president authority to use “all necessary and appropriate force” to include broad powers of detention. Due to the lack of clear expression of the scope of these authorities in the AUMF, as well as potential conflicts with the Constitution, related case law includes differing judicial opinions. Supreme Court rulings have not addressed all the questions raised by the complexity of the issues involved. [New York Times, 12/1/2011; Secrecy News, 2/6/2012; Elsea, 6/11/2012 pdf file; Salon, 12/15/2012] The NDAA states in 1021(d), “Nothing in this section is intended to limit or expand the authority of the president or the scope of the [AUMF],” and (e): “Nothing in this section shall be construed to affect existing law or authorities relating to the detention of United States citizens, lawful resident aliens of the United States, or any other persons who are captured or arrested in the United States.” [Public Law 112 81 pdf file] This language was included following the nearly unanimous passage of Senate Amendment (SA) 1456. It was a compromise, following the defeat of three other amendments proposed by members of Congress concerned about the NDAA’s blanket detention authority: SA 1107, introduced by Senator Mark Udall (D-CO), which would have removed detention provisions from the bill and required the executive branch to submit a report to Congress on its interpretation of its detention powers and the role of the military; SA 1125, introduced by Senator Diane Feinstein (D-CA), which would have limited the definition of covered persons to those captured outside US borders; and SA 1126, also introduced by Feinstein, which would have would have excluded US citizens from indefinite detention provisions. [Senate, 12/1/2011; The Political Guide, 12/31/2012] Supporters of broad detention authority say the entire world is a battlefield, and interpret Hamdi to mean any US citizen deemed an enemy combatant can legally be detained indefinitely by the military. Opponents point out that Hamdi was said to have been fighting the US in Afghanistan, and that military detention without trial is limited to those captured in such circumstances. Opponents also say the 1971 Non-Detention Act outlawed indefinite detention of US persons arrested in the US. Feinstein, who submitted SA 1456 inserting the compromise language, states: “[T]his bill does not change existing law, whichever side’s view is the correct one. So the sponsors can read Hamdi and other authorities broadly, and opponents can read it more narrowly, and this bill does not endorse either side’s interpretation, but leaves it to the courts to decide.” Senator Carl Levin (D-MI), sponsor of the original NDAA in the Senate, agrees, saying: “[W]e make clear whatever the law is. It is unaffected by this language in our bill.” [Senate, 12/1/2011]
NDAA 'Affirms' Authority Not Expressly Granted in AUMF, Further Muddies Already Unclear Powers - In the NDAA, Congress attempts to settle some of the aforementioned legal questions by asserting in the NDAA that these authorities were included in the AUMF or that the president already possessed them (unless the courts decide otherwise). Section 1021(a) states: “Congress affirms that the authority of the president to use all necessary and appropriate force pursuant to the [AUMF]… includes the authority for the Armed Forces of the United States to detain covered persons (as defined in sub-section (b)) pending disposition under the law of war… (c)(1) until the end of the hostilities authorized by the [AUMF].” This clear statement regarding detention authority is an implicit acknowledgment that the AUMF neither explicitly authorizes indefinite military detention, nor spells out the scope of such authority. As noted above, both the George W. Bush and Obama administrations, citing the AUMF, have claimed this authority, and some courts have upheld their interpretation. However, as noted by critics of the bill such as the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), Human Rights Watch (HRW), and constitutional scholar Glenn Greenwald, this is the first time Congress has codified it. Also, despite Congress’s assertion in the NDAA that it does not “expand… the scope of the [AUMF],” the language in the bill does exactly that. The AUMF pertained only to those responsible for the 9/11 attacks, or those who harbored them. Subsection (b)(2) of the NDAA expands the definition of covered persons and activities to include “[a] person who was a part of or substantially supported al-Qaeda, the Taliban, or associated forces that are engaged in hostilities against the United States or its coalition partners, including any person who has committed a belligerent act or has directly supported such hostilities in aid of such enemy forces.” Terms such as “substantially supported,” “directly supported,” and “associated forces” are not defined in the NDAA and are thus subject to interpretation, introducing new ambiguities. In addition, though the AUMF does not explicitly authorize it, the NDAA clearly covers any person, including US persons, “captured or arrested in the United States,” should the courts decide that the AUMF did, in fact, authorize this, or that it is otherwise constitutional. A federal judge will later issue a preliminary injunction barring enforcement of this section of the NDAA, in part because of its conflicting, vague language but also because of her finding that it infringes on the right to due process, and to freedom of speech and association (see May 16, 2012). [Public Law 112 81 pdf file; American Civil Liberties Union, 12/14/2012; Human Rights Watch, 12/15/2012; Salon, 12/15/2012]
Section 1022: Mandatory Military Custody for Non-US Citizen Members of Al-Qaeda - Section 1022 requires that those determined to be members of al-Qaeda or “an associated force” and who “participated in the course of planning or carrying out an attack or attempted attack against the United States or its coalition partners” be held in “military custody pending disposition under the law of war.” This section is somewhat less controversial than section 1021 as it is more specific and limited in scope, and contains an exemption for US citizens, such that section 1022 may be applied to US citizens, but is not required to be: (b)(1) “The requirement to detain a person in military custody under this section does not extend to citizens of the United States.” [Public Law 112 81 pdf file]
Obama Administration Insisted on Broad Detention Authority - According to Senators Levin and Lindsey Graham (R-SC), the Obama administration required that detention authorities be applicable to US citizens, including those arrested in the US. Levin says that “language which precluded the application of section 1031 [1021 in the final bill] to American citizens was in the bill we originally approved in the Armed Services Committee, and the administration asked us to remove the language which says that US citizens and lawful residents would not be subject to this section.” [Senate, 11/17/2011] Graham says: “The statement of authority I authored in 1031 [1021 in final bill], with cooperation from the administration, clearly says someone captured in the United States is considered part of the enemy force regardless of the fact they made it on our home soil. The law of war applies inside the United States not just overseas.” [Senate, 11/17/2011]
How Congress Votes - With President Obama having signaled he will sign the bill, the Senate votes 86-13 in favor, with one abstention. Six Democrats and six Republicans vote against it, along with Senator Bernie Sanders (I-VT). [Open Congress, 12/15/2011] The House votes 283-136 in favor of the bill, with 14 abstentions. Democrats are evenly divided, with 93 voting for the NDAA and 93 against. Republicans voting are overwhelmingly in favor: 190-43, almost four out of five. Obama will sign the NDAA into law by December 31, 2011 (see December 31, 2011). [Open Congress, 12/14/2011]
Fallout over Bill - The same day Congress votes to pass the bill, two senators who voted for it, Feinstein and Patrick Leahy (D-VT), introduce a bill to restrict presidential authority to indefinitely detain US citizens (see December 15, 2011). A poll that will be conducted shortly after the bill is passed finds that only one in four “likely voters” approve of it (see December 22-26, 2011). Less than six months after the bill is signed into law, a federal judge will issue a preliminary injunction barring enforcement under section 1021 (see May 16, 2012), in response to a lawsuit that will be filed by seven activists and journalists (see January 13, 2012).

Entity Tags: Bernie Sanders, George W. Bush, Dianne Feinstein, Carl Levin, Glenn Greenwald, Patrick J. Leahy, Barack Obama, Mark Udall, Human Rights Watch, American Civil Liberties Union

Timeline Tags: Civil Liberties

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