Friday, March 15, 2013

D.C. Circuit Allows FOIA Case for Drone Files to Move Forward

The D.C. Circuit today rejected the CIA's non-response to the ACLU's FOIA request for documents related to the government's drone program and allowed the case to move forward.  Still, the ruling doesn't ensure that anyone will actually receive documents.  That's a question for the district court on remand.

The case, ACLU v. CIA, involves the ACLU's FOIA request for "records pertaining to the use of unmanned aerial vehicles ('UAVs')--commonly referred to as 'drones' . . .--by the CIA and the Armed Forces for the purpose of killing targeted individuals."  The CIA responded with a Glomar response--declining either to confirm or deny the existence of any responsive records.  The CIA claimed that confirming the existence of documents would confirm that it is involved in, or interested in, drone strikes, while denying the existence would confirm the opposite.  According to the CIA, its involvement or interest in drone strikes fell under exceptions to the FOIA.

The D.C. Circuit disagreed.  It ruled that the government had already publicized the targeted-killing-by-drone program, and that even the CIA chief had revealed its existence and the Agency's interest in it.  Because the reasons for withholding the documents wasn't really a reason, in light of these disclosures, the court said that the CIA can't hide behind a Glomar response.  

Moreover, the CIA justified its Glomar response on the ground that it was necessary to keep secret whether the CIA itself was involved in, or interested in, drone strikes.  But the ACLU's request swept more broadly--to any government drone strikes.  And the CIA's Glomar response also swept more broadly--too broadly.

The court also noted that the government appears to have acknowledged that the CIA has some records that could be responsive to the FOIA request.

The court remanded the case to the district court to sort out what documents the CIA has, and which ones, if any, it might have to turn over.  It's not clear that the CIA will ultimately have to turn over any documents.  The court gave specific suggestions to the district court as to how it might evaluate CIA records and determine which ones it has to release.


March 15, 2013 in Cases and Case Materials, Courts and Judging, News, War Powers | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Thursday, March 7, 2013

Administration Won't Use Domestic Drones to Kill Americans, After All

It turns out that the administration won't use drones to kill Americans on U.S. soil after all, according to White House Press Secretary Jay Carney earlier today.  This seems a very strange thing to be relieved about, but this is the level of discussion after AG Eric Holder earlier this week suggested in a letter to Senator Rand Paul that there might be extraordinary circumstances when the White House could order such a strike.  Senator Paul then engaged in a 13-hour talking filibuster, holding up a vote on John Brennan to head the CIA, in protest.


In response to a question whether "the president has authority to use a weaponized drone to kill an American not engaged in combat on American soil," Carney simply said "No."  "The president has not and would not use drone strikes against American citizens on American soil," according to Carney.

Josh Gerstein at Politico posted the story here.


[Picture: Air Force]

March 7, 2013 in Executive Authority, News, War Powers | Permalink | Comments (1) | TrackBack (0)

Wednesday, March 6, 2013

Paul's Filibuster and the Administration's Domestic Drone Authority

Senator Rand Paul started a talking filibuster today on the Senate floor, holding up John Brennan's nomination to head the CIA.  His problem?  The administration's use of drones.  In particular, a reply he received earlier this week from AG Holder in response to his question whether the government could use drones to target and kill U.S. citizens within the United States.  Here's Holder's answer:

The question you have posed is therefore entirely hypothetical, unlikely to occur, and one we hope no President will ever have to confront.  It is possible, I suppose, to imagine an extraordinary circumstance in which it would be necessary and appropriate under the Constitution and applicable laws of the United States for the President to authorize the military to use lethal force within the territory of the United States.  For example, the President could conceivably have no choice but to authorize the military to use such force if necessary to protect the homeland in the circumstances of a catastrophic attack like the ones suffered on December 7, 1941, and September 11, 2001.

Were such an emergency to arise, I would examine the particular facts and circumstances before advising the President on the scope of his authority.

Adam Serwer at Mother Jones was out front in reporting on AG Holder's letter.  Senator Paul's official web-site is posting his hour-by-hour comments on the floor.


March 6, 2013 in Executive Authority, Fundamental Rights, News, War Powers | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Friday, March 1, 2013

Bradley Manning's Statement

Developments in the Bradley Manning case include the news that Manning has pleaded guilty to some charges - - - but not to the charge of aiding the enemy - - - as reported by the NY Times. 

While there is apparently no official copy of Bradley Manning's statement, The Guardian has published a copy of Manning's lengthy statement as transcribed by independent journalist Alexa O'Brien.

Manning mural BrooklynOf particular interest are Manning's statements undermining his intent to aid the enemy and supporting his claim of whistle-blowing, including his choice of recipients for his information.

At this point I decided that it made sense to try to expose the SigAct tables to an American newspaper. I first called my local news paper, The Washington Post, and spoke with a woman saying that she was a reporter. I asked her if the Washington Post would be interested in receiving information that would have enormous value to the American public.

Although we spoke for about five minutes concerning the general nature of what I possessed, I do not believe she took me seriously. She informed me that the Washington Post would possibly be interested, but that such decisions were made only after seeing the information I was referring to and after consideration by senior editors.

I then decided to contact [missed word] the most popular newspaper, The New York Times. I called the public editor number on The New York Times website. The phone rang and was answered by a machine. I went through the menu to the section for news tips. I was routed to an answering machine. I left a message stating I had access to information about Iraq and Afghanistan that I believed was very important. However, despite leaving my Skype phone number and personal email address, I never received a reply from The New York Times.

Such revelations invite an obvious comparison between Bradley Manning's plight and that of Daniel Ellsburg, who revealed The Pentagon Papers and prompted the renowned First Amendment decision in New York Times v. United States (1971).   Another comparison is to a Civil War prosecution, even as courts consider First Amendment claims resisting the government subpoenas of Twitter accounts.

But Bradley Manning's case is proving unique.

[image via]


March 1, 2013 in Current Affairs, First Amendment, History, News, Speech, State Secrets, War Powers | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Thursday, February 21, 2013

A Drone Court . . . in the Executive Branch?

While many continue talking about a drone court in the judicial branch, Neal Katyal wrote in the NYT in favor of a drone court in the executive branch.  Katyal argues that an executive tribunal comprised of national security experts, with congressional oversight, is a better tailored way to ensure accountability in the administration's use of drone strikes for targeted killings.  The proposal splits the difference--or takes the best of both approaches--between the administration's current policy (which, it says, includes an internal executive branch review by experts, but with no independent oversight) and a full-fledged drone court in the judicial branch.

According to supporters, the drone court would provide a check to the administration's use of drones for targeted killing of Americans overseas, in the spirit of the FISA court.  But ideas so far locate the court in the judiciary.  Katyal sees a problem with that:

There are many reasons a drone court composed of generalist federal judges will not work.  They lack national security expertise, they are not accustomed to ruling on lightning-fast timetables, they are used to being in absolute control, their primary work is on domestic matters and they usually rule on matters after the fact,  not beforehand.

But putting oversight authority in the executive branch, staffed by experts, would solve that problem.  And Katyal says that an executive branch "court" could still be subject to a check--by Congress:

The adjudicator would be a panel of the president's most senior national security advisers, who would issue decisions in writing if at all possible.  Those decisions would later be given to the Congressional intelligence committees for review.  Crucially, the president would be able to overrule this court, and take whatever action he thought appropriate, but would have to explain himself afterward to Congress.

As to explaining to Congress--and shifting gears just slightly--it's now widely reported that the White House is refusing to disclose DOJ memos justifying its targeted killing program.  Instead, to gain bi-partisan support for John Brennan to lead the CIA, the administration is negotiating with Republicans to provide more information on the attacks in Benghazi in order to gain their support for Brennan.


February 21, 2013 in Congressional Authority, Courts and Judging, News, Procedural Due Process, Separation of Powers, War Powers | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Saturday, February 9, 2013

A Targeted Killing Court?

The idea to create a judicial check on the administration's use of targeted killings seems to be gaining some momentum, according to several sources, including WaPo and NYT.  According to the reports, the idea is to create a secret court, like the FISA court, to provide a measure of process before the government kills a person by drone attack.  There is some concern that a court could act quickly enough, however.  Senate Intelligence Committee Chairman Senator Diane Feinstein said she and others may explore the idea of a special court.


February 9, 2013 in Congressional Authority, Executive Authority, News, Separation of Powers, War Powers | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Thursday, February 7, 2013

DOJ Releases Memos on Drone Attacks to Senate Committee

The Justice Department today released a series of legal memos outlining the case for the administration's use of drone attacks to the Senate Intelligence Committee, according to WaPo.  But the memos are (inexplicably) not for public consumption.

The release came just days after the leak of a DOJ white paper outlining the legal case for drone attacks on Americans overseas, and just hours before John Brennan's confirmation hearing before the Committee to be CIA director.  Brennan defended the attacks in his testimony.


February 7, 2013 in Congressional Authority, Executive Authority, News, Separation of Powers, War Powers | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Tuesday, February 5, 2013

DOJ White Paper Says Why Drone Attacks on Americans Are Constitutional

A Department of Justice white paper leaked to NBC gives the more detailed version of the administration's legal case for drone attacks against overseas Americans associated with al-Qa'ida.  (Note that the white paper is unsigned and undated; it is not an OLC memo.  It is titled simply "Department of Justice White Paper.")  Michael Isikoff wrote on the white paper here.  The leak is significant, because the administration has steadfastly refused to release a formal legal justification for the program.  Just last month, the administration successfully defended against a FOIA claim in federal court seeking legal justification for the program.)

According to the white paper, the president has constitutional authority to order drone attacks and is not prohibited by due process.  The paper says that the president has authority to respond to order strikes as part of his authority to defend the country against the imminent threat posed by al Qa'ida and associated forces, including U.S. citizens associated with al Qa'ida, under "the inherent right of the United States to national self defense under international law, Congress's authorization of the use of all necessary and appropriate military force against this enemy, and the existence of an armed conflict with al-Qa'ida under international law." 

According to the paper, due process does not prohibit this:

Were the target of a lethal operation a U.S. citizen who may have rights under the Due Process Clasue and the Fourth Amendment, that individual's citizenship would not immunize him from a lethal operation.  Under the traditional due process balancing analysis of Mathews v. Eldridge, we recognize that there is no private interest more weighty than a person's interest in his life.  But that interest must be balanced against the United States' interest in forestalling the threat of violence and death to other Americans that arise from an individual who is a senior operational leader of al-Q'aida or an associated of al-Q'aida and who is engaged in plotting against the United States.

Instead, the white paper sets out a three-part test for targeted killing of a U.S. citizen who is outside the United States and who is "an operational leader continually planning attacks against U.S. persons and interests":

(1) where an informed, high-level official of the U.S. government has determined that the targeted individual poses an imminent threat of violent attack against the United States;

(2) where a capture operation would be infeasible--and where those conducting the operation continue to monitor whether capture becomes infeasible; and

(3) where such an operation would be conducted consistent with applicable law of war principles.

The paper says that "[i]n these circumstances, the 'realities' of the conflict and the weight of the government's interest in protecting its citizens from an imminent atack are such that the Constitution would not require the government to provide further process to such a U.S. citizen before using lethal force."

The paper, however, goes on to define "imminent" quite broadly (and surprisingly): "the condition that an operational leader present an 'imminent' threat of violent attack against the United States does not require the United States to have clear evidence that a specific attack on U.S. persons and interests will take place in the immediate future."  The paper also goes on at length as to why this isn't unlawful murder. 

It mentions as part of the justification that "under the circumstances described in this paper, there exists no appropriate judicial forum to evaluate these constitutional considerations."


February 5, 2013 in Executive Authority, Foreign Affairs, Fundamental Rights, News, Procedural Due Process, War Powers | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Wednesday, January 23, 2013

Ban on Women in Combat to be Lifted

Reputable news sources are reporting the Department of Defense will abandon the ban on women serving in combat; CNN has one of the fullest reports.

The official announcement from the Pentagon should be forthcoming on Thursday.

In November, a complaint in Hegar v. Panetta was filed in the Northern District Court of California, arguing that the policy offended the equal protection component of the Fifth Amendment.  More about the case is available from the ACLU.

ConLawProfs (and students) often encounter the gendered combat exclusion in discussions of Rotsker v. Goldberg (1981) in which the Justice Rehnquist's Court upheld male-only registration for the draft finding women were not "similarly situated" to men because women were not eligible for combat.

[image via]

January 23, 2013 in Equal Protection, Fifth Amendment, Gender, War Powers | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Friday, January 4, 2013

President Obama's Signing Statement on NDAA

President Obama signed the National Defense Authorization Act for FY 2013 this week and, just as he did on last year's NDAA, issued a signing statement objecting to several provisions on separation-of-powers grounds.  In characteristic language, the President said that he will implement those provisions "to avoid a constitutional conflict."  This means, largely, that the administration will ignore them.  But it's unlikely that the administration will act contrary to all of them.

Perhaps the most notable provisions restrict the President's use of funds to transfer detainees out of Guantanamo Bay--either to the U.S. for criminal trials in regular Article III courts, or to other countries--or to house detainees in the U.S.  Last year's NDAA also contained similar restrictions.  These provisions--Sections 1022, 1027, and 1028--are designed to prevent the President from closing Guantanamo and detaining suspected terrorists in the United States; they effectively foiled the President's plans last year to close Guantanamo.

But another provision, Section 1025, new this year, similarly restricts the President's use of funds to transfer detainees out of the detention facility in Parwan, Afghanistan.  The President wrote,

That facility is located within the territory of a foreign sovereign in the midst of an armed conflict.  Decisions regarding the disposition of detainees captured on foreign battlefields have traditionally been based upon the judgment of experienced military commanders and national security professionals without unwarranted interference by Members of Congress.  Section 1025 threatens to upend that tradition, and could interfere with my ability as Commander in Chief to make time-sensitive determinations about the appropriate disposition of detainees in an active area of hostilities. 

The President also objected to provisions interfering with his authority to conduct foreign relations and supervise the executive branch.  As to the latter, Sections 827 and 828 enhance whistleblower protection for executive branch contractors.  The President wrote, "I will interpret those sections consistent with my authority to direct the heads of executive departments to supervise, control, and correct employees' communications with Congress in cases where such communications would be unlawful or would reveal information that is properly privileged or otherwise confidential."

Section 1034 requires the President to "transmit to the congressional defense committees a report by the Commander of the United States Strategic Command, without change, detailing whether the recommended reduction would create a strategic imbalance or degrade deterrence and extended deterrence between the total number of nuclear weapons of the United States and the total number of nuclear weapons of the Russian Federation."  President Obama wrote, "section 1034 would require a subordinate to submit materials directly to the Congress without change, and thereby obstructs the traditional chain of command."


January 4, 2013 in Congressional Authority, Executive Authority, News, Separation of Powers, War Powers | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Daily Read: Reporting the MSK Trial at Guantanamo

In an excerpt published in Slate this morning, from his e-book, Camp Justice, journalist Mattathias Schwartz writes compellingly of covering the ongoing trial United States v. Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, et al.  We most recently discussed Khalid Sheikh Mohammed (KSM), the so-called "mastermind" of 9-11 and the onlgoing legal proceedings, when KSM was arraigned.  

Camp JusticeRecall that whether or not KSM would have a trial - - - and where - - - were hotly contested matters.  Now, Schwartz states that although the KSM trial at Guantanamo is an “open” and “public” proceeding [his quotes], accepting the Pentagon’s “invitation” to cover the proceedings, meant signing the 13-page Media Ground Rules document:

Among other things, I agreed not to disclose any Protected Information. The definition of Protected Information makes ample use of the word includes and sets no upper limit on what Protected Information might be.

The geographical restraints also limit reportial opportunities:

For the most part, News Media Representatives are confined to a few acres of Guantánamo, an area known as Camp Justice. Cut off from the town and the detention camps, Camp Justice is carved up into a jigsaw of designated zones by every conceivable type of wall: interlocking traffic barriers, chest-high, made of orange plastic; chains hanging between yellow stanchions; retractable fabric bands stretched airport-style between flimsier black stanchions; chain-link fences veiled in black tarps and topped with spools of concertina wire; chain-link blocks wrapped in green tarps and filled with rubble; “no photography” signs; “restricted area” signs; gates that swing on hinges; gates that pop up from the ground.

And then there is the trial itself, with the imposition of a 40 second sound delay.

This first hand journalistic account provides a useful context for any constitutional analysis of a "public trial," as well as for the ongoing discussions of national security and constitutionalism.


November 20, 2012 in Criminal Procedure, Current Affairs, First Amendment, Foreign Affairs, Habeas Corpus, War Powers | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Thursday, November 15, 2012

D.C. District Says Habeas (Still) Doesn't Extend to Bagram

Chief Judge Royce C. Lamberth (D.D.C.) ruled today in Amantullah v. Obama that a Bagram detainee does not enjoy the privilege of habeas corpus, despite new evidence that wasn't before the D.C. Circuit when it similarly ruled in Al Maqaleh v. Gates.  This ruling comes on the heels of a series of like rulings in the D.C. Disrict and shows that the courts aren't open to efforts to side-step Al Maqaleh.  In short: Habeas does not, and will not, extend to detainees at Bagram.

Here's our post on the D.C. Circuit's Al Maqaleh, with background and links; here's our most recent post on habeas at Bagram.

Amantullah, a Bagram (Afghanistan) detainee, argued that he had new evidence that should alter the jurisdictional analysis in the D.C. Circuit's Al Maqaleh case, holding that habeas doesn't extend to Bagram.  He argued several points:

  • The commencement of full-blown civilian trials of Afghan detainees at Bagram" "belies any previously articulated claim that proximity to the battlefield renders Article III judicial review impracticable."
  • The government intends to detain him indefinitely.
  • The government's new procedures, under the Detainee Review Board, are only marginally better than its procedures under the old system, but they're still flawed.
  • His own DRB found him eligible for release.
  • The government is using Bagram to evade judicial review.

The court didn't buy it.  Judge Lamberth wrote that the new evidence didn't alter the Boumediene factor analysis, and that under Al Maqaleh Amentullah's petition must be denied.

Amentullah's most compelling new evidence may have been his claim that his DRB found him eligible for release.  Here's what the court had to say about that:

But this is irrelevant to the Boumediene analysis.  As Judge Bates noted [in his most recent ruling], "whether a detainee has been cleared for release is irrelevant to whether a petitioner may be detained unlawfully."

Op. at 15.


November 15, 2012 in Cases and Case Materials, Habeas Corpus, News, Opinion Analysis, War Powers | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Friday, November 9, 2012

Seventh Circuit Rejects Torture Claim Against Rumsfeld

The en banc Seventh Circuit this week ruled in Vance v. Rumsfeld that two American military contractors had no cause of action against former Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld for torture.  The ruling was expected: the court previously vacated the three-judge panel ruling allowing the case to move forward; oral arguments suggested that the full court was hostile to the plaintiffs' claims; and the ruling aligns with similar (but distinguishable and less sweeping) rulings in the Fourth and D.C. Circuits.  We posted last on the case, with links to an earlier post, here.

The ruling ends the plaintiffs' case and effectively creates absolute immunity against such claims for military personnel and their civilian commanders--at least in the Seventh Circuit.  Given similar rulings in the Fourth and D.C. Circuits--and no circuit going the other way--the case almost surely will not attract the attention of the Supreme Court.  (Even if the Court took it up, it would almost certainly affirm the Seventh Circuit's ruling, given its trend with Bivens actions.)  The case also extended the no-supervisory-liability rule for Bivens claims (affirmed in Iqbal), holding that Secretary Rumsfeld's alleged authorization of torture, even if true, was simply too attenuated from the actions of those who actually tortured the plaintiffs.  

The case involved two American military contractors who claimed that they were detained and tortured by military authorities in Iraq.  They sued Secretary Rumsfeld under Bivens based on his alleged authorization of torture techniques.  

The en banc Seventh Circuit reversed a three-judge panel and held that Bivens did not offer a remedy to the plaintiffs.  Chief Judge Easterbrook, writing for the court, set the tone early in his opinion, expressing hostility to "creating new Bivens claims":

[The Supreme Court] has not created another [Bivens] remedy during the last 32 years--though it has reversed more than a dozen appellate decisions that had created new actions for damages.  Whatever presumption in favor of a Bivens-like remedy may once have existed has long since been abrogated.  The Supreme Court never created or even favorably mentioned the possibility of a non-statutory right of action for damages against military personnel, and it has twice held that it would be inappropriate to create such a claim for damges.  The Court has never created or even favorably mentioned a non-statutory right of action for damages on account of conduct that occurred outside the borders of the United States.  Yet plaintiffs propose a novel damages remedy against military personnel who acted in a foreign nation--and in a combat zone, no less.

Op. at 9.  Chief Judge Easterbrook wrote that "special factors" counseled against a Bivens remedy, in particular the courts' relative inability to assess the merits of military policies and decisions.  Chief Judge Easterbrook also mentioned that Congress declined to create a statutory remedy, suggesting that it didn't want plaintiffs suing military personnel or their superiors, and that Congress created two administrative paths to remedies but that the plaintiffs did not pursue them.  "But Congress has not authorized awards of damages against soldiers and their superiors, and creating a right of action in common-law fashion would intrude inapropriately into the military command structure."  Op. at 17.  

Note that the ruling (Part III) extends to "soldiers and their superiors," even though this case was only against Secretary Rumsfeld.

Chief Judge Easterbrook also wrote that Secretary Rumsfeld's authorization of torture was too attenuated from the actions of those who actually tortured the plaintiffs to survive the no-supervisor-liability rule for Bivens claims.  The plaintiffs sought to navigate this rule by alleging that Secretary Rumsfeld personally authorized torture--i.e., that he wasn't vicariously liable, but was rather directly responsible.  But Chief Judge Easterbrook wrote that Iqbal requires that a defendant "wants the unconstitutional or illegal conduct to occur."  Op. at 19.  That, he said, the plaintiffs did not allege.

Judge Wood concurred in the judgment only but wrote separately to emphasize that the alleged actions were torture, and could not hide behind the euphamism of enhanced interrogation techniques.  Judge Wood also disagreed with the majority insofar as its opinion (Part III) would insulate military personnel (and not merely the Secretary of Defense) from Bivens liability.  

Judges Hamilton, Rovner, and Williams all wrote a separate dissent and all joined each others' dissents, emphasizing different points.  Judge Hamilton pointed out that the ruling gives more rights to aliens (under the Torture Victim Protection Act) than U.S. citizens and explained in great detail why U.S. law, in fact, assumes that the plaintiffs should have had a Bivens claim.  Judge Rovner argued that the plaintiffs pleaded sufficiently specific facts related to Secretary Rumsfeld's direct responsibility to survive the pleading standards set in Iqbal and Twombley.  And Judge Williams emphasized the remarkable scope of the majority's opinion.  "No case from our highest court or our sister circuits has approached such a sweeping conclusion."  Op. at 73.


November 9, 2012 in Cases and Case Materials, Courts and Judging, Fundamental Rights, Jurisdiction of Federal Courts, News, Opinion Analysis, Recent Cases, Separation of Powers, War Powers | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Monday, October 22, 2012

Court Rejects Bagram Detainees' Habeas Claims

Judge John D. Bates (D.D.C.) dismissed the habeas corpus claims of detainees at Bagram Airfield (Afghanistan) last week in Al Maqaleh v. Gates.  The ruling is the latest chapter in the detainees' quest to challenge their detentions by way of habeas in federal court, just as Guantanamo detainees won the right to challenge their detention by way of habeas in Boumediene v. Bush.  The detainees may appeal, but their chances seem slim, at best, especially given the history of the case.

Recall that Judge Bates originally ruled that Bagram detainees enjoyed the privilege of habeas in 2009.  Judge Bates wrote that with technology the courts could hear Bagram detainees' habeas claims just as easily as they could hear Guananamo detainees' claims, and that habeas claims wouldn't unduly disrupt the government's prosecution of the war.  But the D.C. Circuit reversed, saying that Bagram was fundamentally different than Guantanamo.  The D.C. Circuit ruled that Bagram was in an active war zone, that the government didn't have the kind of control over Bagram that it had over Guantanamo, and that habeas claims risked interfering with the government's prosecution of the war.

This latest case arose when the same Bagram detainees argued that certain developments at Bagram undermined the D.C. Circuit's ruling.  In particular, the Bagram detainees argued that new evidence showed that the government intends to stay at Bagram indefinitely; that recent criminal trials at Bagram showed that practical obstacles to litigation are far less serious than the D.C. Circuit believed; that the government was attempting to avoid habeas jurisdiction by detaining prisoners at Bagram; and that procedures used to determine the detainees' status are unacceptable.

Judge Bates rejected these claims, in short disagreeing with the detainees' interpretation of their new evidence, or saying that their "new" evidence wasn't new at all--that it was fully available to the D.C. Circuit when the D.C. Circuit issued its earlier ruling.

Judge Bates also rejected the habeas claim in a companion case brought by a minor, Hamidullah v. Obama.  Hamidullah argued that his age set him apart from the others, because habeas is "somewhat more robust" for minors.  Judge Bates ruled that he failed to support this argument.

The case likely marks the end of the line for Bagram detainees.  Even if they appeal, given the D.C. Circuit's ruling and Judge Bates's most recent ruling, they're likely to lose.


October 22, 2012 in Cases and Case Materials, Executive Authority, Habeas Corpus, Jurisdiction of Federal Courts, News, Opinion Analysis, War Powers | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

D.C. Circuit Vacates Hamdan's Conviction for "Material Support for Terrorism"

A unanimous three-judge panel of the D.C. Circuit today in Hamdan v. U.S. reversed the judgment of the Court of Military Commission Review and directed that Salim Ahmed Hamdan's conviction for "material support for terrorism" be vacated.  The ruling clears Hamdan, who already served time (66 months minus credit for time already served at Guantanamo) and has been released, of this conviction.

Hamdan here is the same Hamdan who successfully challenged the government's authority to try him by military commission in Hamdan v. Rumsfeld.  After Congress passed the Military Commissions Act of 2006 and expanded the list of crimes for which a person could be tried by military commission, the government re-charged Hamdan with conspiracy and material support for terrorism.  Hamdan was acquitted of conspiracy, but convicted of five specifications of material support for terrorism.  He was sentenced to 66 months, but credited for served for most of that sentence, and released in Yemen in 2008.

The D.C. Circuit ruled that Hamdan's case was not moot (even though he already served time and was released in 2008 in Yemen) and that the MCA, which specifically made "material support for terrorism" a crime triable in a military commission, did not apply (in order to avoid ex post facto problems).  This left the court to determine whether the government had authority to try Hamdan for "material support for terrorism" under 10 U.S.C. Sec. 821, which authorizes the government to try persons by military commission for violations of the "law of war." 

In short, the court ruled that the international law of war at the time did not proscribe "material support for terrorism" and that the government therefore lacked authority to try Hamdan for that crime by military commission.  The court wrote that

neither the major conventions on the law of war nor prominent modern international tribunals nor leading international-law experts have identified material support for terrorism as a war crime.  Perhaps most telling, before this case, no person has ever been tried by an international-law war crimes tribunal for material support of terrorism.

Op. at 25.  The court said that international law leaves "material support for terrorism" to domestic law (even if international law does establish some other forms of terrorism as war crimes), and domestic law didn't outlaw it until the 2006 MCA--after Hamdan's actions.

Judge Ginsburg joined the court's opinion but wrote separately to "explain the unfortunate state of . . . precedent" that saved the case from mootness.

Only Judge Kavanaugh, the author of the court's opinion, joined footnote 6, which explained why Congress had authority to make "material support for terrorism" a war crime, and why it is appropriate to address that question in the first place.  Judge Kavanaugh wrote that Congress's war powers are not confined by international law, and therefore even if international law did not define "material support for terrorism" as a war crime, Congress could.


October 16, 2012 in Cases and Case Materials, Congressional Authority, Courts and Judging, Jurisdiction of Federal Courts, Mootness, News, Opinion Analysis, Separation of Powers, War Powers | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Tuesday, October 9, 2012

Daily Read: Bowden on Obama on binLaden's Possible Article III Trial

9780802120342In the just-published book The Finish: The Killing of Osama bin Laden by Mark Bowden apparently argues that

in the unlikely event that bin Laden surrendered, Obama saw an opportunity to resurrect the idea of a criminal trial, which Attorney General Eric Holder had planned for Khalid Sheikh Mohammed. This time, the president tells Bowden, he was prepared to bring bin Laden back and put him on trial in a federal court. “We worked through the legal and political issues that would have been involved, and Congress and the desire to send him to Guantánamo, and to not try him, and Article III.” Obama continues: “I mean, we had worked through a whole bunch of those scenarios. But, frankly, my belief was if we had captured him, that I would be in a pretty strong position, politically, here, to argue that displaying due process and rule of law would be our best weapon against al-Qaeda, in preventing him from appearing as a martyr.”

Obama's representations, given in an interview with Bowden, present an interesting - - - and perhaps unlikely - - - counterfactual.  Over at Lawfare, Wells Bennett observes that "it seems a safe bet that congressional resistance to a civilian prosecution would have been extreme, at least as heated as the resistance to the civilian prosecution of the 9/11 co-conspirators."


October 9, 2012 in Books, Courts and Judging, Current Affairs, Executive Authority, Foreign Affairs, International, Jurisdiction of Federal Courts, News, War Powers | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Appeals Judge Stays District Court Injunction on NDAA Detention Authority

Charlie Savage at the NYT reports that Judge Raymond J. Lohier of the Second Circuit granted an interim stay of district Judge Katherine Forrest's permanent injunction against the use of the detention authority in the National Defense Authorization Act by the Obama administration.  Our post on Judge Forrest's injunction, along with background, is here.

The stay means that Judge Forrest's injunction does not prevent the government from acting under its detention authority in the NDAA, until a panel of the Second Circuit hears the case, scheduled for September 28.

This is a set-back for the plaintiffs in the case and other opponents of the NDAA's detention authority--but only a minor, maybe temporary one: everyone expected that the Second Circuit would have the next say on this case, whatever Judge Forrest ruled, and that the Supreme Court may have the final say.


September 18, 2012 in Cases and Case Materials, Congressional Authority, Executive Authority, News, Opinion Analysis, War Powers | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Thursday, September 13, 2012

Court Permanently Enjoins NDAA Detention Authority

Judge Katherine B. Forrest (SDNY) ruled in Hedges v. Obama that the detention authority in Section 1021 of the National Defense Authorization Act violated free speech and free association and was unconstitutionally vague.  Judge Forrest issued a permanent injunction against its enforcement.

The ruling comes nearly four months after Judge Forrest issued a temporary injunction in the same case.  The ruling means that the government cannot use Section 1021 as authority for military detention--at least in the Southern District, if not beyond--and it warns the government strongly against using the AUMF instead.  Judge Forrest wrote that the AUMF never authorized the kind of detention authorized in Section 1021--that Section 1021 is a new and different kind of detention authority--undermining the government's claim that the AUMF allowed this all along.  According to Judge Forrest, it didn't.  And still doesn't.  The ruling thus not only strikes Section 1021; it also strikes at the government's sweeping theory of detention under the AUMF itself.  Needless to say, the ruling is a huge victory for opponents of limitless and military detention without trial.

Recall that the plaintiffs in the case, a group of writers, journalists, and activists, sued the government, arguing that Section 1021 violated the First Amendment.  That Section provides:

(a) In General. Congress affirms that the authority of the President to use all necessary and appropriate force pursuant to the [AUMF] includes the authority of the Armed Forces of the United States to detain covered persons (as defined in subsection (b)) pending disposition under the law of war.

(b) Covered Persons.  A covered person under this section is any person as follows

. . .

(2) A person who was 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.

(c) Disposition Under the Law of War.  The disposition of a person under the law of war as described under subsection (a) may include the following:

(1) Detention under the law of war without trial until the end of hostilities authorized by the [AUMF].

. . .

(d) Construction.  Nothing in this section is intended to limit or expand the authority of the President or the scope of the [AUMF].

The plaintiffs argued that the language was pliable and vague enough that the government could use Section 1021(b)(2) to detain them as "covered persons."

Judge Forrest agreed.  She ruled that the government had done nothing since the preliminary injunction to better or more clearly define vague terms in that subsection, and that it had done very little to assure her that the plaintiffs in this case wouldn't be subject to detention under its authority.  Here are some key points from the ruling:

  • Standing.  Judge Forrest rejected the government's claim that the plaintiffs lacked standing, particularly becuase the government had done almost nothing to persuade her that the plaintiffs might not be subject to detention under Section 1021 in violation of the First Amendment.  Since the preliminary injunction, the government only issued a highly qualified statement that said that the plaintiffs, based solely on their independent activities described in their affidavits and testimony, wouldn't be subject to detention.  For Judge Forrest, this wasn't enough.  The highly qualified statement left the door wide enough open for prosecution of protected activities that the plaintiffs still had standing.
  • AUMF Authority.  Judge Forrest categorically rejected the government's repeated claim in this litigation (and elsewhere) that Section 1021 only codified authority that it already enjoyed pursuant to the AUMF.  Judge Forrest was clear that the authorities differed--and that Section 1021 added to authority under the AUMF, that the AUMF didn't go so far as to authority detention of those "substantially or directly supporting" "associated forces."  She wrote that the government itself extended its own authority under the AUMF to resemble something like the authority codified in Section 1021, but that the AUMF itself (without the government's subsequent gloss) does not grant the same authority as Section 1021.  (The AUMF authorizes "all necessary and appropriate force against those . . . [who the President determines] planned, authorized, committed, or aided the terrorist attacks that occurred on September 11, 2001, or harbored such organizations or persons . . . ."  Compare that language to the language of Section 1021(b)(2), above.)
  • Alternative Use of AUMF.  Related to that last point, Judge Forrest issued a strong statement warning the government against using the "substantially or directly supporting" theory as the basis of any detention.  She wrote,

If, following issuance of this permanent injunctive relief, the Government detains individuals under theories of "substantially or directly supporting" associated forces, as set forth in Section 1021(b)(2), and a contempt action is brought before this Court, the Government will bear a heavy burden indeed.

Op. at 14.

  • Habeas.  Judge Forrest categorically rejected the government's claim that habeas would ensure that detainees under Section 1021 would get their day in court.  She said that if only habeas review were available to U.S. citizens detained within the U.S., core constitutional rights (like the right to a jury trial in a criminal case) would be eliminated.


September 13, 2012 in Cases and Case Materials, Congressional Authority, Courts and Judging, Executive Authority, First Amendment, Mootness, News, Opinion Analysis, Speech, War Powers | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Friday, August 31, 2012

DOJ Closes Torture Investigations, Declines to Prosecute

Attorney General Eric Holder announced yesterday that the Justice Department will not pursue criminal charges in the two cases--the only two, and the last two--that it investigated involving torture of detainees in U.S. custody.  The announcement means that no U.S. official, employee, or service member will face criminal charges for torture.

This announcement, along with the courts' now widely adopted view that civil suits for torture are barred by either the state secrets privilege or by "special factors" counseling against such suits (under Bivens), means that no U.S. official, employee, or service member is likely to face any judicial accountability for torture.

Recall that the Justice Department in 2009 tasked Assistant U.S. Attorney John Durham of the District of Connecticut with an expanded investigation into whether federal laws were violated in connection with the interrogations of specific detainees at overseas locations.  But AG Holder said that the Department wouldn't prosecute anyone who acted in good faith and within the scope of legal guidance by the OLC.  In June 2011, Durham recommended opening full criminal investigations into only two cases.  The announcement today means that those investigations are now closed--without prosecutions.


August 31, 2012 in Executive Authority, News, Separation of Powers, War Powers | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Fordham Discussion of the Constitutionality of "Targeted Killings"