Rasul v. Bush, 2004


Rasul v. Bush, 542 U.S. 466 (2004), is a landmark United States Supreme Court decision establishing that the U.S. court system has the authority to decide whether foreign nationals (non-U.S. citizens) held in Guantanamo Bay were wrongfully imprisoned. The 6-3 ruling on June 28, 2004, reversed a District Court decision, which held that the Judiciary had no jurisdiction to handle wrongful imprisonment cases involving foreign nationals who are held in Guantanamo Bay. Justice John Paul Stevens wrote the majority opinion and was joined by Sandra Day O'Connor, David Souter, Ruth Bader Ginsburg, and Stephen Breyer, with Anthony Kennedy concurring. Justice Antonin Scalia filed a dissenting opinion and was joined by William Rehnquist and Clarence Thomas. The claimant whose name the case bears, Shafiq Rasul, was released before the decision was handed down.


In early 2002, the Center for Constitutional Rights (CCR) was the first organization to file two habeas corpus petitions, Rasul v. Bush and Habib v. Bush, challenging the U.S. government’s practice of holding foreign nationals captured in Afghanistan during the war against the Taliban regime and al-Qaida in detention indefinitely. The detainees had been designated enemy combatants and did not have access to counsel, the right to a trial or knowledge of the charges against them. The Supreme Court, over the administration’s objections, agreed in November 2003 to hear the cases of the Guantánamo detainees, namely Rasul v Bush and al Odah v. Bush. The arguments were heard on April 20, 2004. In a ruling on June 28th 2004, the Court ruled that the habeas corpus statute, 28 U.S.C. § 2241, entitled the detainees to challenge the validity of their detention.

The various plaintiffs came to be in Guantanamo Bay by different routes, but were generally captured or arrested during the U.S. invasion of Afghanistan.

The US Military transferred Rasul, Asif Iqbal and David Hicks, who denied voluntarily joining any terrorist forces, to Guantanamo Bay in December 2001. As noted by the District Court, they did not deny having fought for the Taliban, but claimed that if they did take up arms, it was only when being attacked and in self-defense.[citation needed] Rasul and Iqbal say they were with the Taliban because they were taken captive. Hicks is silent on the matter in court filings, but his father, in filing the brief, stated that he believed that his son had joined the Taliban forces.

The twelve Kuwaitis claimed that they were in Pakistan and Afghanistan giving humanitarian aid, and were seized by villagers seeking bounties. They were transferred to Guantanamo Bay starting in January 2002.

Mamdouh Habib was arrested by Pakistani authorities on October 5, 2001, two days before the fighting began.

These cases were filed in the Washington, D.C., District Court and the court decided them together. Each of the filings alleged that the government had not allowed them to speak at all to friends, family or lawyers, and had not given them any hearing whatsoever on the question of whether they were in fact enemy combatants in the war. Rasul v. Bush

Rasul v. Bush was a petition for a writ of habeas corpus (release from unlawful imprisonment) filed on February 19, 2002 by Asif Iqbal and Shafiq Rasul of British citizenship, and David Hicks of Australian citizenship. Their petition requested:

•That they be released
•That they be allowed to have private, unmonitored conversations with their attorneys
•That interrogations cease until the trials were complete

Habib v. Bush

Mamdouh Habib, an Australian citizen, filed a suit [2] very similar to Rasul on June 10, 2002. The Court dismissed it, on the same grounds as the other two, on August 8.

District Court's decision

The District Court dismissed the cases with prejudice on July 30, 2002, on grounds that it did not have jurisdiction because Guantanamo Bay is not a sovereign territory of the United States. It first ruled that the Odah petitioners were in fact asking for habeas corpus, as they were "plainly challeng[ing] the legality of their custody." This meant that jurisdiction would be considered for both cases as though they were asking for release from prison.

Citing Johnson v. Eisentrager, 339 U.S. 763 (1950), in which the Supreme Court ruled that U.S. courts had no jurisdiction over German war criminals held in a U.S.-administered German prison, the District Court ruled that U.S. courts only have jurisdiction in a territory where the U.S. has sovereignty. Because the treaty with Cuba regarding Guantanamo Bay stated that Cuba technically has "complete sovereignty" (though, as the plaintiffs pointed out, the U.S. has all effective powers in the area), the court held, Guantanamo Bay could not be considered a sovereign territory of the United States and therefore foreign nationals could not be given a trial in the U.S.

Court of Appeals decision

The cases were appealed together on August 8, 2002, to the United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit. It affirmed the lower court's decision, stating there was no U.S. court that had jurisdiction over Guantanamo Bay.

Supreme Court

The case was appealed to the Supreme Court on September 2, 2003, and heard on April 20, 2004.

Release of Rasul and Iqbal

On March 9, 2004, two years after they were first detained, Rasul and Iqbal were released to the United Kingdom with no charges filed, along with three others. On the other hand, the government announced that it planned to charge Hicks and Habib before a military commission. Habib was later released.