In Hamdan v. Rumsfeld, the U. S. Supreme Court ruled that the trial of Guantanamo Bay detainees by military commission or tribunal is illegal. This contradicts the Uniform Code of Military Justice and Common Article 3 of the Geneva Convention. Ultimately, this means these regulations are enforceable by the Supreme Court. This ruling led to the weakening of presidential and congressional power over the executive branch of government.


Hamdan v. Rumsfeld, 548 U.S. 557 (2006) is a US Supreme Court case. The plaintiff was Salim Ahmed Hamdan, a bodyguard and chauffeur who worked for Osama Bin Laden. He was captured in 2001 and detained in Guantanamo Bay in 2002 and was to be tried before a military commission in 2004. However, the defense counsel assigned to him filed for a writ of Habeas Corpus, or unlawful imprisonment. This filing challenged the constitutionality of the military commission as it lacked the protections required under the Geneva Convention and the Uniform Code of Military Justice, both of which regulate the treatment of prisoners.

When the Hamdan v. Rumsfeld case was first reviewed in the United States District Court for the District of Columbia, where Judge James Robertson ruled in Hamdan’s favor. He argued that Hamdan’s status as a prisoner of war was uncertain. Trial by military commission, however, could only be applied to people who were enemy combatants, not prisoners of war. Therefore, this status had to be determined before the US could resort to such a trial.

In 2005, the decision was unanimously reversed by the United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit. According to this panel of judges, the Geneva Convention only applies to conflicts between countries, not organizations (such as al-Quaeda). Since trials by military commission were approved by the US Senate, they were legitimate. On the Hamdan v. Rumsfeld, it ruled that holding a military commission for Hamdan without establishing his prisoner of war status was legitimate.

Finally, the U. S. Supreme Court reviewed the Hamdan v. Rumsfeld case, and the decision was once again reversed. The Court found that the military commission lacks the protections required by the Uniform Code of Military Justice, and, therefore, is not legal. Furthermore, the Appeals Court’s judgment was ruled erroneous, as the Geneva Convention affords minimal protections, which include trial by a “regularly constituted court” to detained enemy combatants. Therefore, Hamdan was to be tried by a regular court rather than a special military commission.

Ultimately, the significance of the Hamdan v. Rumsfeld case is challenging the unitary executive theory, under which the President of the US can have control over the entire executive branch of the government. Furthermore, it established limits to presidential and Congressional power, particularly in the treatment of wartime prisoners. It also challenged the Bush administration’s plans to allow the NSA to set-up domestic wiretapping without first securing a warrant in court. Overall, the case’s consequences affected the US separation of powers and international treaty obligations.