Home | Notable Cases | Yaser Hamdi v. Donald Rumsfeld


Yaser Hamdi v. Ronald Rumsfeld
Civil No. 02-439


Chronology of the Litigation

 

Litigation involving Yaser Hamdi has included three separate cases, five decisions by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit, and a ruling by the U.S. Supreme Court. Below is a list of key events beginning with Mr. Hamdi's detention and ending with the Supreme Court ruling:

 

2001: Mr. Hamdi, who is with the Taliban in Afghanistan, surrenders to members of the Northern Alliance. At some point during 2001, he is turned over to the U.S. military and designated an enemy combatant. At no point during Mr. Hamdi's detention is he charged with a crime, nor is a military hearing held.

 

January 2002: Mr. Hamdi is transferred to a detention facility at the U.S. Naval Base, Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.

 

April 2002: The U.S. military learns Mr. Hamdi was born an American citizen in Louisiana on September 26, 1980; he moved with his family to Saudi Arabia as a child. He is transferred to a naval brig in Norfolk, Virginia.

 

May 10, 2002: A petition for a writ of habeas corpus is filed on Mr. Hamdi's behalf in Norfolk federal trial court by Frank Dunham, the Federal Public Defender for the Eastern District of Virginia. Habeas petitions are requests for a court order requiring a prisoner's jailer to appear with the prisoner in court, so that the judge may determine whether the prisoner is being lawfully held. Because Mr. Hamdi is being held without access to the federal courts, Mr. Dunham files the petition on his behalf, as Mr. Hamdi's "next friend." The federal courts require next friends to have some significant relationship with the prisoner to file habeas petitions on their behalf.

 

May 23, 2002: Christian Peregrim, a private citizen from New Jersey, files a second habeas petition on Mr. Hamdi's behalf. Ordered by the trial court to describe his relationship with Mr. Hamdi, Mr. Peregrim responded "I have no prior existing relationship with [Mr. Hamdi] and have filed the above petition out of concern only for the unlawful nature of his incarceration."

 

May 29, 2002: The trial court consolidates the Dunham and Peregrim petitions. It orders the military to allow a member of the Federal Public Defender's office to meet with Mr. Hamdi no later than June 1. The meeting is not to be monitored or recorded by the military.

 

May 31, 2002: At the request of the military, the Richmond-based U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit stays the trial court's order. It hears oral arguments on June 4.

 

June 11, 2002: A third habeas petition is filed with the trial court by Mr. Hamdi's father, Esam Fouad Hamdi. The Federal Public Defender serves as his attorney. This is the petition that will ultimately be reviewed by the U.S. Supreme Court. The trial court orders this case be consolidated with the previous two, and requires the military to allow a member of the Federal Public Defender's office to meet with Mr. Hamdi by June 14. The meeting is not to be monitored or recorded by the military. The trial court stays this order to allow time for the military to appeal it. An appeal is sought on June 13; it is argued before the Fourth Circuit on June 25.

 

June 26, 2002: A three-judge panel of the Fourth Circuit reverses the trial court's May 29 order, ruling that because Mr. Dunham and Mr. Peregrim did not have "any prior relationship whatever" with Mr. Hamdi, they could not file a habeas petition as "next friend" on his behalf. Because neither had standing to bring the suits, the appellate court does not reach the issue of whether Mr. Hamdi has a right to meet with an attorney. The cases filed by Mr. Dunham and Mr. Peregrim are subsequently terminated by the trial court.

 

July 12, 2002: A three-judge panel of the Fourth Circuit reverses the trial court's June 11 order because "the district court appointed counsel and ordered access to the detainee without adequately considering the implications of its actions and before allowing the United States even to respond." It remands the case to the trial court for further proceedings.

 

July 25, 2002: In its answer to the complaint, the military files a declaration by Michael Mobbs, a Special Advisor to the Under Secretary of Defense for Policy. The two-page declaration describes the circumstances under which Mr. Hamdi was captured and detained.

 

July 31, 2002: Following initial discovery, the trial court orders the military to provide the court with several documents. They include copies of all of Mr. Hamdi's statements, a list of all interrogators who have questioned him, and copies of any statements related to Mr. Hamdi by members of the Northern Alliance. The documents will be reviewed by the court, but not shared with Mr. Hamdi's counsel. The military declines to provide the information.

 

August 8, 2002: A three-judge panel of the Fourth Circuit orders the trial court to "consider the sufficiency of the Mobbs declaration as an independent matter before proceeding further."

 

August 16, 2002: After an August 13 hearing, the trial court finds that before it can rule on the petition, it needs more facts about Mr. Hamdi's capture and detention than are contained in the Mobbs declaration. It again orders the military to provide the court with additional information for in camera review.

 

August 21, 2002: The trial court stays proceedings in the case and asks the Fourth Circuit to answer the following question: "Whether the Mobbs Declaration, standing alone, is sufficient as a matter of law to allow a meaningful judicial review of Yaser Esam Hamdi's classification as an enemy combatant?" Oral arguments are heard by the appellate court on October 28.

 

January 8, 2003: A three-judge panel of the Fourth Circuit reverses the trial court and orders it to dismiss the petition. "Because it is undisputed that Hamdi was captured in a zone of active combat in a foreign theater of conflict, we hold that the submitted [Mobbs] declaration is a sufficient basis upon which to conclude that the Commander in Chief has constitutionally detained Hamdi pursuant to the war powers entrusted to him by the United States Constitution," the appellate court finds.

 

July 2003: Mr. Hamdi is transferred to the brig at the Charleston Naval Weapons Station in South Carolina.

 

July 9, 2003: By a vote of 8-4, the Fourth Circuit denies a motion by Mr. Hamdi for all 12 judges on the appellate court to rehear the case. Mr. Hamdi appeals the three-judge panel ruling of January 8, 2003 to the U.S. Supreme Court, which accepts the case on January 9, 2004. It is argued before the Supreme Court on April 28, 2004.

 

June 28, 2004: The Supreme Court reverses the Fourth Circuit. Six of the nine justices find that U.S. citizens held in the United States as enemy combatants have the right to be represented by attorneys and the right to challenge that designation and their indefinite detention. Two of the justices go further, finding U.S. citizens held in the United States as enemy combatants cannot be detained indefinitely; they must either be charged with a crime and tried, or released.

The remaining justice votes to affirm the Fourth Circuit. The case is remanded to the lower courts for further proceedings.

 

Subsequent events in the litigation are listed on the docket page.