Hela v. Trump

CourtUnited States Courts of Appeals. United States Court of Appeals (District of Columbia)
Citation972 F.3d 120
Docket NumberNo. 19-5079,19-5079
Parties Abdulsalam Ali Abdulrahman AL HELA, Detainee Camp Delta, Appellant v. Donald J. TRUMP, President of the United States, et al., Appellees
Decision Date28 August 2020

972 F.3d 120

Abdulsalam Ali Abdulrahman AL HELA, Detainee Camp Delta, Appellant
Donald J. TRUMP, President of the United States, et al., Appellees

No. 19-5079

United States Court of Appeals, District of Columbia Circuit.

Argued March 5, 2020
Decided August 28, 2020

Andrew D. Garrahan argued the cause for appellant. With him on the briefs were Brian E. Foster, S. William Livingston, Megan O'Neill, Washington, DC, and David H. Remes. Cyril Djoukeng, Washington, DC, entered an appearance.

Brad Hinshelwood, Attorney, U.S. Department of Justice, argued the cause for appellees. With him on the brief were Joseph H. Hunt, Assistant Attorney General, and Sharon Swingle, Attorney.

Before: Griffith and Rao, Circuit Judges, and Randolph, Senior Circuit Judge.

Opinion concurring in part and concurring in the judgment filed by Circuit Judge Griffith.

Concurring opinion filed by Senior Circuit Judge Randolph.

Rao, Circuit Judge:

Abdulsalam Ali Abdulrahman Al Hela filed a habeas petition challenging his detention at the U.S. Naval Station at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. The district court denied the writ after a full hearing on the merits. On appeal, Al Hela claims that the President lacks authority to detain him for substantially supporting Al Qaeda and its associated forces; that he is entitled to release for violation of both "substantive" and "procedural" due process; and that the district court's discovery procedures failed to provide him with a "meaningful opportunity" to challenge his detention under the Suspension Clause. We affirm the district court because the President has authority to detain Al Hela and the proceedings below complied with the requirements of the Suspension Clause. We reject Al Hela's due process claims because the Due Process Clause may not be invoked by aliens without property or presence in the sovereign territory of the United States.


Al Hela is a Yemeni citizen, tribal sheikh, and businessman with connections to prominent political officials in Yemen's government. Throughout the 1990s and early 2000s, Al Hela assisted the Political Security Organization, an internal security and intelligence service of the Yemeni government, with the deportation of foreign Arabs who settled in Yemen after the conclusion of the Soviet-Afghan War. During this time, Al Hela also maintained contact with several known and suspected affiliates of Al Qaeda and two associated terrorist organizations known as the Egyptian Islamic Jihad and the Aden-Abyan Islamic Army. Al Hela disappeared during a business trip to Egypt in 2002 under circumstances irrelevant to this appeal. U.S. forces later obtained custody of Al Hela and have detained him at Guantanamo Bay since 2004.1

972 F.3d 128

In 2005, Al Hela petitioned the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia for a writ of habeas corpus, arguing the President lacks authority to detain him under the Authorization for Use of Military Force, Pub. L. No. 107-40, 115 Stat. 224 (2001) ("AUMF"). The proceedings moved forward after the Supreme Court held in Boumediene v. Bush that the Suspension Clause guarantees alien detainees at Guantanamo Bay a "meaningful opportunity" to challenge the basis for their detention through habeas review. 553 U.S. 723, 779, 128 S.Ct. 2229, 171 L.Ed.2d 41 (2008) ; see U.S. CONST. art. I, § 9, cl. 2. To comply with this requirement, the judges of the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia developed a standing case management order used in many Guantanamo habeas cases to manage discovery and to protect classified information from unwarranted disclosure. In re Guantanamo Bay Detainee Litig. , Misc. No. 08-442, 2008 WL 4858241 (D.D.C. Nov. 6, 2008), as amended , 2008 WL 5245890 (D.D.C. Dec. 16, 2008).

As applied in Al Hela's case, the case management order required the government to provide a factual return detailing the allegations and evidence supporting his detention, disclose any material exculpatory information in its possession, and perform certain additional discovery upon request. See id. §§ I.A, I.B, I.C, I.D, I.E. The order protected classified material contained within these filings by providing for three tiers of information access. First, Al Hela was permitted to view an unclassified summary of the factual return along with a limited number of excerpts from other documents. See id. § I.F. Second, Al Hela's counsel was allowed to view most of the classified information in the factual return and supporting exhibits under a protective order. See id. Third, the government was permitted to withhold particularly sensitive classified information altogether by obtaining permission from the court after an ex parte, in camera review of the material. See id.

In the years that followed, Al Hela filed a series of motions for additional discovery that the district court denied. Al Hela first argued the Suspension and Due Process Clauses required that his counsel be allowed to access the government's ex parte filings, which sought to exempt particularly sensitive classified material from disclosure. The court denied access because the filings described the underlying sensitive classified information. Order, Al Hela v. Obama , No. 05-cv-1048 (D.D.C. Nov. 19, 2014). Next, Al Hela moved for personal access to the classified factual return given to his counsel. Although Al Hela argued the unclassified summary and limited excerpts provided to him were insufficient to mount a meaningful challenge to his detention, the district court found existing disclosures met all applicable constitutional requirements. See Al Hela v. Obama , No. 05-cv-1048, 2016 WL 2771804, at *2 (D.D.C. May 13, 2016).

The district court denied Al Hela's habeas petition after a full hearing on the merits. First, the court interpreted the AUMF and related statutes to permit the detention of individuals who "substantially supported" covered terrorist organizations in ways not directly related to hostilities against the United States and its allies. Al Hela v. Trump , No. 05-cv-1048, unclass. slip op. at 9–21 (D.D.C. Jan. 28, 2019). Second, the court rejected Al Hela's claim that he was entitled to release under the Due Process Clause, holding that "the due

972 F.3d 129

process clause does not apply to Guantanamo detainees." Id. at 23 (citing Kiyemba v. Obama , 555 F.3d 1022 (D.C. Cir. 2009) (" Kiyemba I "), vacated and remanded , 559 U.S. 131, 130 S.Ct. 1235, 175 L.Ed.2d 1070, judgment reinstated as amended , 605 F.3d 1046 (D.C. Cir. 2010) (per curiam) (" Kiyemba III ")). Third, the court concluded after an ex parte, in camera review that the government's intelligence reports were sufficiently reliable to support Al Hela's detention despite containing anonymous, multi-layered hearsay. Id. at 24–28. Finally, the court determined the government put forward sufficient evidence to demonstrate Al Hela "substantially supported" Al Qaeda and associated forces under the AUMF detention standard. Id. at 80–82. Specifically, Al Hela was a trusted and reliable member of international terrorist networks after participating in jihad against the Soviet Union in Afghanistan in the late 1980s. Id. at 33–34, 69–80. In the years leading up to Al Hela's disappearance and detention, terrorist leaders relied on Al Hela to transport fighters within Yemen and across regional borders in furtherance of attacks against the United States and its allies, including by leveraging his government contacts to procure fake identification and travel documents. Id. at 36–67.

Al Hela appeals, asking that we order his conditional release to a foreign nation on the statutory ground that the President exceeded the scope of his AUMF authority and on the constitutional ground that his detention without trial violates "substantive" due process.2 Further, Al Hela argues the district court's discovery and evidentiary rulings violated the procedural guarantees of the Suspension and Due Process Clauses. We have jurisdiction over Al Hela's appeal. See 28 U.S.C. §§ 2241, 2253(a).


We begin with the President's statutory authority to detain Al Hela at the U.S. Naval Station at Guantanamo Bay. Al Hela asks us to reverse and remand with instructions to order his conditional release because the President exceeded the scope of his statutory detention authority. We conclude that the President has authority to detain Al Hela for "substantially support[ing]" Al Qaeda and its associated forces and that the district court correctly determined the government's evidence justifies his ongoing detention.


After the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, Congress authorized the President to "use all necessary and appropriate force against those nations, organizations, or persons he determines planned, authorized, committed, or aided the terrorist attacks that occurred on September 11, 2001,

972 F.3d 130

or harbored such organizations or persons." AUMF § 2(a). The AUMF authorizes the President to detain any individual who is part of or supported Al Qaeda, the Taliban, or associated forces. See Hamdi v. Rumsfeld , 542 U.S. 507, 518–19, 124 S.Ct. 2633, 159 L.Ed.2d 578 (2004) (plurality opinion of O'Connor, J.); Al Bihani v. Obama , 590 F.3d 866, 872 (D.C. Cir. 2010).3 In the National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2012 ("2012...

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