696 F.3d 1238 (D.C. Cir. 2012), 11-1257, Hamdan v. United States
|Citation:||696 F.3d 1238|
|Opinion Judge:||KAVANAUGH, Circuit Judge:|
|Party Name:||Salim Ahmed HAMDAN, Petitioner v. UNITED STATES of America, Respondent.|
|Attorney:||Joseph M. McMillan argued the cause for petitioner. With him on the briefs were Harry H. Schneider Jr., Charles C. Sipos, Angela R. Martinez, Abha Khanna, Adam Thurschwell, and Jahn C. Olson. J. Wells Dixon, Shayana D. Kadidal, and Pardiss Kebriaei were on the brief for amicus curiae Center for C...|
|Judge Panel:||Before: SENTELLE, Chief Judge, KAVANAUGH, Circuit Judge, and GINSBURG, Senior Circuit Judge. Opinion for the Court filed by Circuit Judge KAVANAUGH, with whom Chief Judge SENTELLE joins except as to footnote 6, and with whom Senior Judge GINSBURG joins except as to footnotes 3, 6, and 8. Concurri...|
|Case Date:||October 16, 2012|
|Court:||United States Courts of Appeals, Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit|
Argued May 3, 2012.
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, 542 U.S. 507, 518-24, 124 S.Ct. 2633, 159 L.Ed.2d 578 (2004); Ex parte Quirin, 317 U.S. 1, 26-45, 63 S.Ct. 2, 87 L.Ed. 3 (1942).
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
credit for some time already served. Hamdan's sentence expired in 2008. Although the United States may have continued to detain Hamdan until the end of hostilities pursuant to its wartime detention authority, see Hamdi, 542 U.S. at 518-22, 124 S.Ct. 2633, Hamdan was transferred in late 2008 to Yemen and then released there. Even after his release, Hamdan has continued to appeal his U.S. war crimes conviction.
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.1
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...
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