HAMDAN v. U.S. No. 11-1257.
696 F.3d 1238 (2012)
Salim Ahmed HAMDAN, Petitioner v. UNITED STATES of America, Respondent.
United States Court of Appeals, District of Columbia Circuit.
Decided October 16, 2012.
John F. De Pue, Attorney, U.S. Department of Justice, argued the cause for respondent. With him on the brief were Lisa O. Monaco, Assistant Attorney General for National Security, Jeffrey M. Smith, Attorney, Edward S. White, Captain, JAGC, U.S. Navy Appellate Counsel, and Francis A. Gilligan, Appellate Counsel, Office of the Prosecutor for Military Commissions.
Concurring Opinion filed by Senior Circuit Judge GINSBURG.
KAVANAUGH, Circuit Judge:
The United States is at war against al Qaeda, an international terrorist organization. Al Qaeda's stated goals are, among other things, to drive the United States from posts in the Middle East, to devastate the State of Israel, and to help establish radical Islamic control over the Greater Middle East. Al Qaeda uses terror to advance its broad objectives. Al Qaeda terrorists do not wear uniforms, and they target American civilians and members of the U.S. Military, as well as U.S. allies. After al Qaeda's attacks on the United States on September 11, 2001, Congress authorized the President to wage war against al Qaeda. That war continues.
In war, when the United States captures or takes custody of alien enemy combatants or their substantial supporters, it may detain them for the duration of hostilities. Moreover, the United States may try unlawful alien enemy combatants before military commissions for their war crimes. See Hamdi v. Rumsfeld,
This case raises questions about the scope of the Executive's authority to prosecute war crimes under current federal statutes.
This particular dispute involves the military commission conviction of Salim Hamdan, an al Qaeda member who worked for Osama bin Laden. In 2001, Hamdan was captured in Afghanistan. He was later transferred to the U.S. Naval Base at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.
Hamdan was not just detained at Guantanamo as an enemy combatant. He was also accused of being an unlawful enemy combatant and was tried and convicted by a military commission for "material support for terrorism," a war crime specified by the Military Commissions Act of 2006. See 10 U.S.C. § 950t(25); see also 10 U.S.C. § 950v(b)(25) (2006) (previous codification of same provision). Hamdan's conviction was based on actions he took from 1996 to 2001 — before enactment of the Military Commissions Act. At the time of Hamdan's conduct, the extant federal statute authorized and limited military commissions to try violations of the "law of war." 10 U.S.C. § 821.
As punishment for his war crime, Hamdan was sentenced by the military commission to 66 months' imprisonment, with
This appeal presents several issues. First, is the dispute moot because Hamdan has already served his sentence and been released from U.S. custody? Second, does the Executive have authority to prosecute Hamdan for material support for terrorism on the sole basis of the 2006 Military Commissions Act — which specifically lists material support for terrorism as a war crime triable by military commission — even though Hamdan's conduct occurred from 1996 to 2001, before enactment of that Act? Third, if not, did the pre-existing statute that authorized war-crimes military commissions at the time of Hamdan's conduct — a statute providing that military commissions may try violations of the "law of war," 10 U.S.C. § 821 — proscribe material support for terrorism as a war crime?
We conclude as follows:
First, despite Hamdan's release from custody, this case is not moot. This is a direct appeal of a conviction. The Supreme Court has long held that a defendant's direct appeal of a conviction is not mooted by the defendant's release from custody.
Second, consistent with Congress's stated intent and so as to avoid a serious Ex Post Facto Clause issue, we interpret the Military Commissions Act of 2006 not to authorize retroactive prosecution of crimes that were not prohibited as war crimes triable by military commission under U.S. law at the time the conduct occurred. Therefore, Hamdan's conviction may be affirmed only if the relevant statute that was on the books at the time of his conduct — 10 U.S.C. § 821 — encompassed material support for terrorism.
Third, when Hamdan committed the relevant conduct from 1996 to 2001, Section 821 of Title 10 provided that military commissions may try violations of the "law of war." The "law of war" cross-referenced in that statute is the international law of war. See Quirin, 317 U.S. at 27-30, 35-36, 63 S.Ct. 2. When Hamdan committed the conduct in question, the international law of war proscribed a variety of war crimes, including forms of terrorism. At that time, however, the international law of war did not proscribe material support for terrorism as a war crime. Indeed, the Executive Branch acknowledges that the international law of war did not — and still does not — identify material support for terrorism as a war crime. Therefore, the relevant statute at the time of Hamdan's conduct — 10 U.S.C. § 821 — did not proscribe material support for terrorism as a war crime.
Because we read the Military Commissions Act not to retroactively punish new crimes, and because material support for terrorism was not a pre-existing war crime under 10 U.S.C. § 821, Hamdan's conviction for material support for terrorism cannot stand. We reverse the judgment of the Court of Military Commission Review and direct that Hamdan's conviction for material support for terrorism be vacated.
In 1996, Salim Hamdan traveled from his native Yemen to Pakistan and then to Afghanistan to participate in jihad. In Afghanistan, Hamdan attended an al Qaeda training camp. At the camp, Hamdan received weapons training, met Osama bin Laden, and listened to bin Laden's lectures.
Later in 1996, Hamdan became an al Qaeda driver. His duties included transporting personnel, supplies, and weapons between an al Qaeda guesthouse and al Qaeda's al Farouq training camp in Afghanistan. Eventually, Hamdan became Osama bin Laden's personal driver and bodyguard.
In August 1996, Osama bin Laden publicly declared war on the United States. That declaration came after various al Qaeda terrorist attacks, including the 1993 bombing of the World Trade Center. In 1998, bin Laden issued a fatwa calling for the indiscriminate killing of Americans, including American civilians. Hamdan was fully aware of bin Laden's public statements targeting the United States.
In August 1998, al Qaeda operatives bombed U.S. Embassies in Kenya and Tanzania, killing 257 people, including 12 Americans. Hamdan was generally aware that such an attack was planned. Around the time of the attack, Hamdan assisted Osama bin Laden in evacuating from Kandahar and moving around Afghanistan.
Later in August 1998, asserting the President's Article II power of self-defense, President Clinton ordered the U.S. Military to bomb targets in Afghanistan in an attempt to kill bin Laden. Bin Laden narrowly avoided being killed in that military action.
In October 2000, at the direction of bin Laden and senior al Qaeda leaders, al Qaeda bombed the U.S.S. Cole off the coast of Yemen, killing 17 Americans and injuring many others. Around that time, Hamdan returned to Afghanistan from Yemen.
In August 2001, Hamdan drove bin Laden to various planning meetings in Afghanistan. Several days before September 11, 2001, bin Laden told Hamdan that they had to evacuate their compound because of an impending operation. Hamdan drove bin Laden to Kabul. They later moved to a series of locations around Afghanistan.
On September 11, 2001, al Qaeda attacked the United States, killing thousands of civilians and causing massive long-term damage to the American economy and way of life.
In the days following the attacks of September 11, 2001, Congress passed and President George W. Bush signed the Authorization for Use of Military Force. That law authorized the President
Pub. L. No. 107-40, 115 Stat. 224 (2001).
Consistent with the 2001 Authorization for Use of Military Force, President Bush directed the use of force to kill or capture and detain al Qaeda operatives, and where
On November 13, 2001, the President issued an executive order establishing military commissions to try al Qaeda members and aiders and abettors who had committed war crimes as defined under the "laws of war" or other "applicable laws." Military Order of Nov. 13, 2001, 66 Fed. Reg. 57,833; 57,833-34. The executive order did not purport to rely solely on the President's constitutional authority; rather, it cited two separate statutes as congressional authorization for the President to employ military commissions: the 2001 Authorization for Use of Military Force and 10 U.S.C. § 821, the long-standing statute that authorized military commissions to try violations of the "law of war."
In November 2001, Hamdan was captured in Afghanistan while driving toward Kandahar. The car he was driving contained two anti-aircraft missiles. Also in the car was an al Qaeda-issued document that authorized the bearer to carry a weapon in Afghanistan. Hamdan's captors turned him over to U.S. authorities. He was later transferred to Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, and the U.S. Military detained him there as an enemy combatant.
At Guantanamo, Hamdan not only was detained as an enemy combatant but also was eventually charged with one count of conspiracy and was to be tried before a military commission as an unlawful enemy combatant who had committed war crimes.
In the Hamdan case, several Justices specifically invited Congress to clarify the scope of the President's statutory authority to use military commissions to try unlawful alien enemy combatants for war crimes. See Hamdan, 548 U.S. at 636, 126 S.Ct. 2749 (Breyer, J., concurring); id. at 636-37, 126 S.Ct. 2749 (Kennedy, J., concurring).
In the wake of the Supreme Court's decision in Hamdan, Congress enacted a new military commissions statute. See Military Commissions Act of 2006, Pub. L. No. 109-366, 120 Stat. 2600. Of particular relevance here, Congress expanded military commissions beyond prosecuting violations
After passage of the 2006 Military Commissions Act, Hamdan was charged anew before a U.S. military commission on one charge of conspiracy and one charge, containing eight specifications, of material support for terrorism.
At his military commission trial, Hamdan was acquitted of conspiracy but convicted of five specifications of material support for terrorism. In August 2008, he was sentenced to 66 months' confinement and credited for having already served most of that time.
When his sentence ended later in 2008, the war against al Qaeda had not ended. Therefore, the United States may have continued to detain Hamdan as an enemy combatant. See Hamdan, 548 U.S. at 635, 126 S.Ct. 2749; Hamdi v. Rumsfeld,
After his release, Hamdan nonetheless continued to appeal his U.S. military commission conviction. On appeal to the en banc Court of Military Commission Review, Hamdan argued (i) that Congress lacked authority under Article I of the Constitution to make material support for terrorism a war crime triable by military commission; (ii) that in any event, the 2006 Military Commissions Act, which listed material support for terrorism as a war crime, could not be retroactively applied to him because his conduct occurred from 1996 to 2001; and (iii) that the statute in effect at the time of his alleged conduct — 10 U.S.C. § 821, which limited military commissions to violations of the "law of war" — did not authorize prosecution of material support for terrorism as a war crime. In 2011, the Court of Military Commission Review affirmed the conviction. See United States v. Hamdan,
By statute, Hamdan has an automatic right of appeal to this Court. See 10 U.S.C. § 950g.
We must first address the issue of mootness — that is, whether this appeal is moot because Hamdan has been released from U.S. custody. Although the parties agree that the appeal is not moot, mootness is a jurisdictional question that we must independently consider. See United States v. Juvenile Male, ___ U.S. ___,
This case is a direct appeal of a military commission conviction. In the criminal context, a direct appeal of a criminal conviction is not mooted by a defendant's release from custody. See Sibron,
To be sure, that principle generally does not apply to the habeas context where a detainee is challenging the basis for executive detention. Such a habeas case is sometimes moot after the detainee's release. See Spencer v. Kemna,
But Hamdan is not just a military detainee; he has been convicted of a war crime by military commission. Therefore, our recent decision in Gul does not control here. Rather, this case is controlled by the principle that a direct appeal of a conviction is not mooted by the defendant's release from custody.
This case is not moot.
Under a law now codified at 10 U.S.C. § 821, Congress has long authorized the Executive to use military commissions to try war crimes committed by the enemy. See Ex parte Quirin,
Hamdan argues that Congress lacked authority under Article I of the Constitution — namely, the Define and Punish Clause — to define material support for terrorism as a war crime subject to trial by a U.S. military commission.
We do not decide that antecedent question. Even assuming arguendo that Congress had authority under its various Article I war powers to establish material support for terrorism as a war crime in the Military Commissions Act of 2006,
As is clear from the text of the Military Commissions Act of 2006, Congress was quite concerned about the ex post facto implications of retroactively prosecuting someone under the Act for conduct committed before its enactment. Congress tried to deal with any ex post facto problem by declaring in the text of the statute that "[t]he provisions of this subchapter codify offenses that have traditionally been triable by military commissions. This chapter does not establish new crimes that did not exist before its enactment, but rather codifies those crimes for trial by military commission." § 3(a), 120 Stat. at 2624. The Act continued: "Because the provisions of this subchapter (including provisions that incorporate definitions in other provisions of law) are declarative of existing law, they do not preclude trial for crimes that occurred before the date of the enactment of this chapter." Id.
As Congress well understood when it appended this unusual statement to the statute, the U.S. Constitution bars Congress from enacting punitive ex post facto laws. See U.S. CONST. art. I, § 9, cl. 3 ("No Bill of Attainder or ex post facto Law shall be passed."). Among other things, the Ex Post Facto Clause bars laws that retroactively punish conduct that was not previously prohibited, or that retroactively increase punishment for already prohibited conduct. See Collins v. Youngblood,
As Congress itself recognized in the statutory text, retroactive prosecution by military commission could similarly raise serious constitutional issues, at the very least. As stated in the statutory text, however, Congress believed that the Act codified no new crimes and thus posed no ex post facto problem. As we explain below, Congress's premise was incorrect. The statute does codify some new war crimes, including material support for terrorism. The question for ex post facto purposes is this: If Congress had known that the Act was codifying some new crimes, would Congress have wanted the new crimes to be enforced retroactively? To begin with, the statutory text reveals a tight causal link between (i) Congress's
Before enactment of the Military Commissions Act in 2006, U.S. military commissions could prosecute war crimes under 10 U.S.C. § 821 for violations of the "law of war." The Government suggests that at the time of Hamdan's conduct from 1996 to 2001, material support for terrorism violated the "law of war" referenced in 10 U.S.C. § 821. It is true that in the text of the Military Commissions Act of 2006, Congress declared its belief that material support for terrorism was a pre-existing crime under the law of war and thus under 10 U.S.C. § 821. See § 3a, 120 Stat. at 2624. But exercising our independent review, as we must when considering the ex post facto implications of a new law, see Calder v. Bull,
Analysis of this issue begins by determining what body of law is encompassed by the term "law of war" in 10 U.S.C. § 821. The Supreme Court's precedents tell us: The "law of war" referenced in 10 U.S.C. § 821 is the international law of war.
We turn, then, to the question whether material support for terrorism is an international-law war crime.
It is true that international law establishes at least some forms of terrorism,
But the issue here is whether material support for terrorism is an international-law war crime. The answer is no. International law leaves it to individual nations to proscribe material support for terrorism under their domestic laws if they so choose. There is no international-law proscription of material support for terrorism.
To begin with, there are no relevant international treaties that make material support for terrorism a recognized international-law war crime. Neither the Hague Convention nor the Geneva Conventions — the sources that are "the major treaties on the law of war" — acknowledge material support for terrorism as a war crime. See Hamdan, 548 U.S. at 604, 126 S.Ct. 2749 (plurality); Geneva Convention Relative to the Protection of Civilian Persons in Time of War (Geneva IV), Aug. 12, 1949, 6 U.S.T. 3516, 75 U.N.T.S. 287; Hague Convention (IV) Respecting the Laws and Customs of War on Land and Its Annex, Oct. 18, 1907, 36 Stat. 2277.
Nor does customary international law otherwise make material support for terrorism a war crime. Customary international law is a kind of common law; it is the body of international legal principles said to reflect the consistent and settled practice of nations. See RESTATEMENT (THIRD) OF FOREIGN RELATIONS LAW OF THE UNITED STATES § 102(2) (1987) ("Customary international law results from a general and consistent practice of states followed by them from a sense of legal obligation"). It is often difficult to determine what constitutes customary international law, who defines customary international law, and how firmly established a norm has to be to qualify as a customary international law norm. Cf. Sosa v. Alvarez-Machain,
Commentators on international law have similarly explained that material support for terrorism is not an international-law war crime. See, e.g., ANDREA BIANCHI & YASMIN NAQVI, INTERNATIONAL HUMANITARIAN LAW AND TERRORISM 244 (2011) ("there is little evidence" that a proscription of "material support for terrorism" is "considered to be part of the laws and customs of war"). Nor is the offense of material support for terrorism listed in the JAG handbook on the law of war. See U.S. ARMY JAG, LAW OF WAR HANDBOOK (Maj. Keith E. Puls ed., 2005); see also Jennifer K. Elsea, The Military Commissions Act of 2006: Analysis of Procedural Rules and Comparison with Previous DOD Rules and the Uniform Code of Military Justice 12 (CRS, updated Sept. 27, 2007) ("defining as a war crime the `material support for terrorism' does not appear to be supported by historical precedent") (footnote omitted).
In short, 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 for terrorism.
Not surprisingly, therefore, even the U.S. Government concedes in this case that material support for terrorism is not a recognized international-law war crime. No treaty that the Government has cited or that we are aware of identifies material support for terrorism as a war crime. And the Government further admits: The "offense of providing material support to terrorism, like spying and aiding the enemy, has not attained international recognition at this time as a violation of customary international law." Brief for the United States at 48; see also id. at 55-56 (same).
To be sure, there is a strong argument that aiding and abetting a recognized international-law war crime such as terrorism is itself an international-law war crime. And there are other similar war crimes.
The Government latches on to a few isolated precedents from the Civil War era to prop up its assertion that material support for terrorism was a pre-existing war crime as of 2001 for purposes of 10 U.S.C. § 821. There are several independent reasons that those cases fail to support the Government's argument. First, the Civil War cases did not involve any charges of material support for terrorism. Instead, several cases involve guerillas who were punished for taking up "arms" as "insurgents" — that is, for direct attacks rather than material support. See, e.g., G.O. No. 15, HQ, Dep't of the Mississippi (Apr. 3, 1862), 1 OR ser. II, at 472-76. Others were convicted of "joining, aiding and assisting a band of robbers and bandits" — in other words, what we would likely call aiding and abetting, not material support. G.O. No. 19, HQ, Dep't of the Mississippi (Apr. 24, 1862), 1 OR ser. II, at 478. In short, those precedents are at best murky guidance here. Cf. Hamdan, 548 U.S. at 602, 126 S.Ct. 2749 (plurality) (requiring "plain and unambiguous" precedent). Second, those Civil War commissions were in part military tribunals governing certain territory — which are a separate form of military commission subject to a separate branch of law, and not the kind of law-of-war military commission at issue here. As others have suggested, their precedential value is therefore limited. See Hamdan, 548 U.S. at 596 n. 27, 126 S.Ct. 2749; id. at 608, 126 S.Ct. 2749 (plurality) (The "military commissions convened during the Civil War functioned at once as martial law or military government tribunals and as law-of-war commissions. Accordingly, they regularly tried war crimes and ordinary crimes together.") (citation omitted). Third, and perhaps most to the point, those cases do not establish that material support for terrorism was a war crime recognized under international law as of 1996 to 2001 when Hamdan committed his conduct, which is the relevant inquiry under 10 U.S.C. § 821. The Government contends that those Civil War precedents illuminate what it calls the "U.S. common law of war" — not the international law of war. But the statutory constraint here imposed by 10 U.S.C. § 821 is the international law of war. As the Government told the Supreme Court in Quirin, "This `common law of war' is a centuries-old body of largely unwritten rules and principles of international law which governs the behavior of both soldiers and civilians during time of war." Brief for the United States at 29, in Quirin,
In short, material support for terrorism was not an international-law war crime
* * *
Because we read the Military Commissions Act not to sanction retroactive punishment for new crimes, and because material support for terrorism was not a pre-existing war crime under 10 U.S.C. § 821, Hamdan's conviction for material support for terrorism cannot stand. We reverse the decision of the Court of Military Commission Review and direct that Hamdan's conviction for material support for terrorism be vacated.
GINSBURG, Senior Circuit Judge, concurring:
I join the decision of the Court but, with respect to its holding Mr. Hamdan's appeal of his criminal conviction by military commission is not moot, I do so only because precedent so dictates. I write separately to explain the unfortunate state of that precedent, which requires us to review the conviction of a man long since transferred to Yemen who, even if his conviction were overturned and he were to hear of it, would not be affected in any way by the result. Because today's decision has no actual consequence for Mr. Hamdan, his case is moot in fact, though, curiously, not in law.
The Supreme Court "presumes" the appeal of a criminal conviction is not moot unless "it is shown that there is no possibility that any collateral legal consequences will be imposed on the basis of the challenged conviction." Sibron v. New York,
A criminal conviction may and often does have consequences beyond the penalties imposed in the sentence. In Sibron, the Court held the defendant's appeal of his conviction was not moot, even though his sentence had expired during the pendency of the appeal, because that conviction, left undisturbed, could increase his sentence if he were later to be convicted of another crime. 392 U.S. at 56, 88 S.Ct. 1889; accord United States v. Morgan,
Although, in considering a challenge to a
Hamdan and the Government each point to a collateral consequence of Hamdan's conviction. Hamdan claims his conviction for material support of terrorism makes him subject to permanent mandatory exclusion from the United States. See 8 U.S.C. § 1182(a)(3)(B)(i)(I), (V). For its part, the Government claims Hamdan's conviction may expose him to an enhanced sentence if in the future he commits a new offense and is tried therefore in a civilian or military court of the United States. See DEP'T OF DEFENSE, MANUAL FOR MILITARY COMMISSIONS, Rule 1001(b)(1)(A) (2010) ("The trial counsel may introduce [in a sentencing proceeding] evidence of [prior] military or civilian convictions, foreign or domestic, of the accused"); 18 U.S.C. § 3553(a)(1) (sentencing court shall consider "the history and characteristics of the defendant"). The adverse collateral consequence raised by Hamdan is foreclosed as a matter of law. The adverse collateral consequence posed by the Government is so far-fetched that the application of the Sibron presumption in this case risks making our opinion merely advisory.
The adverse immigration consequence alleged by Hamdan is impossible as a matter of law because Hamdan is already subject to mandatory exclusion from the United States regardless whether his conviction stands. The Immigration and
The only other collateral consequence alleged is the Government's preposterously hypothetical prospect of an enhanced sentence if Hamdan is in the future convicted in the United States for committing another crime. The Supreme Court held in Sibron that the hypothetical future sentencing enhancement is sufficient to support the presumption that the conviction being appealed will have an adverse collateral consequence and hence to keep the appeal from being moot. Sibron, 392 U.S. at 56, 88 S.Ct. 1889. Subsequent cases, however, cast doubt upon the continuing validity of Sibron as applied to this case. In Spencer v. Kemna the Court declined to extend the Sibron presumption to the appeal of a parole revocation because any collateral consequence in a future sentencing "was contingent upon [the defendant again] violating the law, getting caught, and being convicted."
That is, although in Sibron a conviction was presumed to have adverse consequences for the defendant in a future hypothetical sentencing, in Spencer the hypothetical sentencing consequences of a defendant's parole revocation were held insufficient to keep his case from being moot because such consequences are speculative and depend upon future unlawful conduct by the defendant. Both holdings were categorical; they did not depend at all upon the particular defendant's probability of recidivating. Therefore, the defendants' future crimes, apprehension, and conviction were equally speculative in both cases. It is entirely unclear, therefore, how the hypothetical sentencing consequences of a parole revocation could be too speculative to support a finding of collateral consequences, while the hypothetical sentencing consequences of a conviction could be concrete and certain enough to support the presumption of collateral consequences, and hence Article III jurisdiction, in all criminal appeals.
Nonetheless, "[i]f a precedent of [the Supreme] Court has direct application in a case, yet appears to rest on reasons rejected in some other line of decisions, the Court of Appeals should follow the case which directly controls, leaving to [the Supreme] Court the prerogative of overruling its own decisions." Rodriguez de Quijas v. Shearson/Am. Express, Inc.,
Finally, I note that although this is an "appeal of a criminal conviction," we have strayed far from the familiar territory of Sibron and its progeny, which deemed sentencing consequences the antidote to mootness. The criminal conviction in each of those cases was entered in a regularly
- No Cases Found