Boumediene v. Bush/Opinion of the Court
Opinion of the Court 
Randolph, Circuit Judge: Do federal courts have jurisdiction over petitions for writs of habeas corpus filed by aliens captured abroad and detained as enemy combatants at the Guantanamo Bay Naval Base in Cuba? The question has been the recurring subject of legislation and litigation. In these consolidated appeals, foreign nationals held at Guantanamo filed petitions for writs of habeas corpus alleging violations of the Constitution, treaties, statutes, regulations, the common law, and the law of nations. Some detainees also raised non-habeas claims under the federal question statute, 28 U.S.C. § 1331, and the Alien Tort Act, id. § 1350. In the “Al Odah” cases (Nos. 05-5064, 05-5095 through 05-5116), which consist of eleven cases involving fifty-six detainees, Judge Green denied the government’s motion to dismiss with respect to the claims arising from alleged violations of the Fifth Amendment’s Due Process Clause and the Third Geneva Convention, but dismissed all other claims. See In re Guantanamo Detainee Cases, 355 F. Supp. 2d 443 (D.D.C. 2005). After Judge Green certified the order for interlocutory appeal under 28 U.S.C. § 1292(b), the government appealed and the detainees cross-appealed. In the “Boumediene” cases (Nos. 05-5062 and 05-5063) – two cases involving seven detainees – Judge Leon granted the government’s motion and dismissed the cases in their entirety. See Khalid v. Bush, 355 F. Supp. 2d 311 (D.D.C. 2005).
In the two years since the district court’s decisions the law has undergone several changes. As a result, we have had two oral arguments and four rounds of briefing in these cases during that period. The developments that have brought us to this point are as follows.
In Al Odah v. United States, 321 F.3d 1134 (D.C. Cir. 2003), rev’d sub nom. Rasul v. Bush, 542 U.S. 466 (2004), we affirmed the district court’s dismissal of various claims – habeas and non-habeas – raised by Guantanamo detainees. With respect to the habeas claims, we held that “no court in this country has jurisdiction to grant habeas relief, under 28 U.S.C. § 2241, to the Guantanamo detainees.” 321 F.3d at 1141. The habeas statute then stated that “Writs of habeas corpus may be granted by the Supreme Court, any justice thereof, the district courts and any circuit judge within their respective jurisdictions.” 28 U.S.C. § 2241(a) (2004). Because Guantanamo Bay was not part of the sovereign territory of the United States, but rather land the United States leases from Cuba, see Al Odah, 321 F.3d at 1142-43, we determined it was not within the “respective jurisdictions” of the district court or any other court in the United States. We therefore held that § 2241 did not provide statutory jurisdiction to consider habeas relief for any alien – enemy or not – held at Guantanamo. Id. at 1141. Regarding the non-habeas claims, we noted that “‘the privilege of litigation’ does not extend to aliens in military custody who have no presence in ‘any territory over which the United States is sovereign,’” id. at 1144 (quoting Johnson v. Eisentrager, 339 U.S. 763, 777-78 (1950)), and held that the district court properly dismissed those claims.
The Supreme Court reversed in Rasul v. Bush, 542 U.S. 466 (2004), holding that the habeas statute extended to aliens at Guantanamo. Although the detainees themselves were beyond the district court’s jurisdiction, the Court determined that the district court’s jurisdiction over the detainees’ custodians was sufficient to provide subject-matter jurisdiction under § 2241. See Rasul, 542 U.S. at 483-84. The Court further held that the district court had jurisdiction over the detainees’ non-habeas claims because nothing in the federal question statute or the Alien Tort Act categorically excluded aliens outside the United States from bringing such claims. See Rasul, 542 U.S. at 484-85. The Court remanded the cases to us, and we remanded them to the district court.
In the meantime, Congress responded with the Detainee Treatment Act of 2005, Pub. L. No. 109-148, 119 Stat. 2680 (2005) (DTA), which the President signed into law on December 30, 2005. The DTA added a subsection (e) to the habeas statute. This new provision stated that, “[e]xcept as provided in section 1005 of the [DTA], no court, justice, or judge” may exercise jurisdiction over
(1) an application for a writ of habeas corpus filed by or on behalf of an alien detained by the Department of Defense at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba; or
(2) any other action against the United States or its agents relating to any aspect of the detention by the Department of Defense of an alien at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, who
(A) is currently in military custody; or (B) has been determined by the United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit … to have been properly detained as an enemy combatant.
DTA § 1005(e)(1) (internal quotation marks omitted). The “except as provided” referred to subsections (e)(2) and (e)(3) of section 1005 of the DTA, which provided for exclusive judicial review of Combatant Status Review Tribunal determinations and military commission decisions in the D.C. Circuit. See DTA § 1005(e)(2), (e)(3).
The following June, the Supreme Court decided Hamdan v. Rumsfeld, 126 S. Ct. 2749 (2006). Among other things, the Court held that the DTA did not strip federal courts of jurisdiction over habeas cases pending at the time of the DTA’s enactment. The Court pointed to a provision of the DTA stating that subsections (e)(2) and (e)(3) of section 1005 “shall apply with respect to any claim … that is pending on or after the date of the enactment of this Act.” DTA § 1005(h). In contrast, no provision of the DTA stated whether subsection (e)(1) applied to pending cases. Finding that Congress “chose not to so provide … after having been presented with the option,” the Court concluded “[t]he omission [wa]s an integral part of the statutory scheme.” Hamdan, 126 S. Ct. at 2769.
In response to Hamdan, Congress passed the Military Commissions Act of 2006, Pub. L. No. 109-366, 120 Stat. 2600 (2006) (MCA), which the President signed into law on October 17, 2006. Section 7 of the MCA is entitled “Habeas Corpus Matters.” In subsection (a), Congress again amended § 2241(e). The new amendment reads:
(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.
(2) Except as provided in [section 1005(e)(2) and (e)(3) of the DTA], no court, justice, or judge shall have jurisdiction to hear or consider any other action against the United States or its agents relating to any aspect of the detention, transfer, treatment, trial, or conditions of confinement of an alien who is or was detained by the United States and has been determined by the United States to have been properly detained as an enemy combatant or is awaiting such determination.
MCA § 7(a) (internal quotation marks omitted). Subsection (b) states:
The amendment made by subsection (a) 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 which relate to any aspect of the detention, transfer, treatment, trial, or conditions of detention of an alien detained by the United States since September 11, 2001.
MCA § 7(b) (emphasis added).
The first question is whether the MCA applies to the detainees’ habeas petitions. If the MCA does apply, the second question is whether the statute is an unconstitutional suspension of the writ of habeas corpus.