Boumediene v. Bush

Following is the case brief for Boumediene v. Bush, United States Supreme Court, (2008)

Case summary for Boumediene v. Bush:

  • Boumediene and other Guantanamo bay detainees filed for a writ of habeas corpus to challenge their confinement conditions.
  • A provision of the Military Commissions Act (MCA) prevented unlawful alien detainees from challenging confinement conditions.
  • Boumediene and the other detainees then filed an action against the U.S. government to challenge their detentions through writs of habeas corpus.
  • The Supreme Court of the United States held that alien detainees captured abroad and held at Guantanamo Bay are entitled to use a writ of habeas corpus to challenge their detention.

Boumediene v. Bush Case Brief 

Statement of the facts:

The DTA (Detainee Treatment Act) outlined procedures for detainees at Guantanamo Bay to challenge their classification as unlawful alien enemy combatants. The following year, Congress passed the MCA, which contained a provision preventing such detainees from challenging their confinements by writ of habeas corpus.

Boumediene was categorized as an unlawful alien enemy combatant and sent to Guantanamo Bay. He and several other detainees filed a writ of habeas corpus challenging their confinement conditions.

Procedural History:

The United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia found for the U.S. government. Boumediene then petitioned for a writ of certiorari to the Supreme Court.

Rule of Law or Legal Principle Applied:

Under the Constitution, court’s are required to provide unlawful alien enemy combatants a writ of habeas corpus to challenge their detention. If I writ of habeas corpus is not available, then a substitute process including the same procedural protections and opportunities that are included in a writ of habeas corpus may be provided.

Issue and Holding:

Whether alien detainees captured abroad and held at Guantanamo Bay’s military facility may use a writ of habeas corpus to challenge their detention? Yes.


The Supreme Court of the United States reversed the judgment of the court of appeals.


The Suspension Clause has full effect at Guantanamo Bay. The clause outlines that a writ of habeas corpus may be suspended only in cases of rebellion or invasion when the safety of the public requires it.

The Court denied the writ to enemy aliens, captured outside U.S. territory in Johnson v. Eisentrager, 339 U.S. 763 (1950). At the time, each of the detainees was imprisoned outside of the U.S. They were tried and convicted by a military tribunal for offenses also committed outside the U.S.

Eisentrager sets out three relevant factors in determining the scope of the Suspension Clause for the current detainees:

  1. the detainee’s citizenship and status and the adequacy of the process that determines the status;
  2. the nature of the sites where apprehension and then detention took place; and
  3. the practical obstacles inherent in resolving the prisoner’s entitlement to the writ.

Here, Boumediene. like the detainees in Eisentrager, are not citizens of the U.S. In contrast, the current detainees want to dispute their “enemy combatants” status. In addition, no trial has taken place to determine any laws of war violations.

When taking into consideration the second factor, Guantanamo Bay military base is under the complete and total control of the U.S. and the military has a low burden to hold the detainees at the base. The low burden coupled with complete U.S. control warrants fully extending the writ of habeas corpus to each of the detainees.

Lastly, petitioners in Eisentrager introduced evidence, had counsel and were able to cross-examine opposing witnesses. Here, Boumediene received inadequate procedural protections in their Combatant Status Review Tribunal hearings (hearing). In such a hearing, the detainee is not provided counsel, the government’s evidence is presumed to be valid and the detainee is permitted to present evidence that is reasonable. All fall short of the standard in a habeas corpus proceeding.  As a result, the section of the MCA operates as an unconstitutional suspension of the writ of habeas corpus.

Concurring or Dissenting opinion:

Concurring (Souter):

Although Congress has eliminated the statutory right to bring a writ of habeas corpus, the Court is not prevented from allowing foreign nationals to bring a writ of habeas corpus. Several detainees have been held for many years without formal charges and deserve a procedure to challenge confinements.

Dissenting (Scalia):

The Suspension Clause of the Constitution does not apply to Guantanamo Bay detainees because the writ of habeas corpus was never applied to persons from a foreign nation detained outside of the U.S. Permitting such a procedure would endanger the safety of the U.S.

Dissenting (Roberts):

The hearings are provided to detainees to challenge their classification, not as part of the initial process used to classify detainees as unlawful alien enemy combatants. The hearings provide the same procedural protections as a writ of habeas corpus. Thus a writ of habeas corpus for detainees is unnecessary.


Boumediene v. Bush established that rights of war detainees to challenge their confinement through the filing of a writ of habeas corpus. In addition, under the Suspension Clause, a writ of habeas corpus may be suspended only in limited circumstances which were not present in the current case.

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