2004 June 28

“Rasul:” Supreme Court Limits Bush’s War on Terror


Rasul v. Bush, decided this day, was one of four major Supreme Court decisions in which the Court limited struck down key aspects of President George W. Bush’s war on terrorism. In Rasul, the  issue was whether U.S. federal courts had jurisdiction over foreign nationals being held at the Guantanamo Bay detention center. The Supreme Court held that the federal courts did have jurisdiction and could hear habeas corpus petitions filed by detainees. The administration of President George W. Bush had argued that neither the federal courts nor Congress had authority over decisions by the President of the United States when he was acting as Commander in Chief (see the administration’s memo on September 25, 2001). Shafiq Rasul was a British citizen. The U.S. transferred him and two colleagues to the U.K. before the Court decision, and released him the next day.

The other three important decisions on the Bush administration and the war on terrorism are Hamdi v. Rumsfeld (June 28, 2004), in which the Court held that Yaser Esam Hamdi, an American citizen, had a right to challenge his indefinite detention; Hamdan v Rumsfeld (June 29, 2006), in which the Court ruled that the military commissions established by President George W. Bush violated the Uniform Code of Military Justice and the Geneva Conventions; and Boumediene v. Bush (June 12, 2008), in which the Court held that the privilege of the writ of habeas corpus extended to foreign nationals seeking to challenge their detention by the U.S..

The four decisions stand in contrast to the Supreme Court’s posture during World War II with regard to the evacuation and internment of the Japanese-Americans. In both Hirabayashi v. United States (June 21, 1943), involving a curfew, and Korematsu v. United States (December 18, 1944), involving the evacuation, the Court deferred to presidential wartime power. Only in Ex parte Endo (December 18, 1944) did the Court rule that the government could not detain people it conceded were loyal to the U.S.

Justice John Paul Stevens for the Court: “What is presently at stake [in this case] is only whether the federal courts have jurisdiction to determine the legality of the Executive’s potentially indefinite detention of individuals who claim to be wholly innocent of wrongdoing. Answering that question in the affirmative, we reverse the judgment of the Court of Appeals and remand for the District Court to consider in the first instance the merits of petitioners’ claims.”

Learn more about President Bush and the detainees: Howard Ball, Bush, The Detainees, & the Constitution: The Battle Over Presidential Power in the War on Terror (2007)

Read: Karen Greenberg, The Least Worst Place: How Guantanamo Became the World’s Most Notorious Prison (2009)

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