Keeping the War on Terror Out of U.S. Federal Courts


On July 16, 2014, the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals ruled it lacked subject-matter jurisdiction to hear GTMO detainee Mammar Ameur’s claim for violations of the Alien Tort Claims Act, the Religious Freedom Restoration Act, and the United States Constitution. Ameur was detained in 2003 as a suspected terrorist, and soon after was officially designated an alien “enemy combatant” by a military tribunal. Upon his release in 2008, he filed a complaint seeking money damages for alleged abuse, torture, and other acts that violated customary international law during his time in Guantanamo Bay.

The trial court granted a motion to dismiss for lack of subject-matter jurisdiction pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 2241(e)(2) — a statute denying jurisdiction for any action against the United States relating to the treatment of an enemy combatant. Ameur appealed based on, among other grounds, the constitutionality and congressional intent of the statute. Ameur argued the statute violated both the separation of powers and due process clause, but the Court refused to even consider the statute’s constitutionality because he only requested monetary damages—a relief the Supreme Court refused to award in many cases for alleged constitutional violations. However, Ameur argued the Court should conduct a constitutional analysis because money damages would be his only remedy. The Court rejected that argument based on the Supreme Court decision in Bush v. Lucas suggesting monetary relief for a constitutional violation “obviously cannot be answered simply by noting that existing remedies do not provide complete relief for the plaintiff.”

Additionally, Ameur argued his claim merited a rational-basis review under the equal protection clause because the statute only applies to “aliens.” The Court determined the statute satisfied this deferential standard because Congress had a “reasonable basis for adopting the classification” in “limit[ing] court interference in our nation’s war on terror.” Further, in Helton v. Hunt the Supreme Court found the intent to “deal with the threat of overburdened courts in a piecemeal fashion,” is sufficient to survive constitutional inquiry.

Besides the apparent issue of national security, what are some of the benefits of keeping enemy combatants out of the federal system? Do you believe Congress has the power to keep all enemy combatant claims out of federal court, despite the combatant’s acknowledged Constitutional protections? What if their only source of relief is in federal court? Lastly, are there any societal costs when alien enemy combatants are denied procedural rights provided by the US Constitution?

Sources: Justia, Lawfare

Image: Nation

One comment

  1. It seems that a benefit of keeping enemy combatant claims out of federal court is ensuring there is no judicial precedence condemning the blatantly unconstitutional treatment of the combatants. The rational basis standard is such a low threshold and it seems that many people are easily swayed issues of national security, or less concerned with the rights of non-Americans. However, there is certainly an argument to be made that the societal cost of denying enemy combatants procedural rights is a weakening of the constitution itself, and the protections it purports to offer.
    Likewise, there is an argument that in situations where national security is truly at risk ensuring the procedural and substantive rights of enemy combatants may impede certain operations. This certainly is a very thin line to walk.

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