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The Emerging Law of Detention 2.0: The Guantanamo Habeas Cases as Lawmaking

Benjamin Wittes

Brookings Institution

Robert Chesney

University of Texas School of Law

Larkin Reynolds

Brookings Institution

May 12, 2011

U of Texas Law, Public Law Research Paper No. 195

In January 2010, the Governance Studies department at Brookings released a paper entitled “The Emerging Law of Detention: The Guantánamo Habeas Cases as Lawmaking.” (http://ssrn.com/abstract=1540601) In that paper, two of the present authors sought to describe the enormous diversity of opinion among the lower court judges to whom the inactivity of the Supreme Court, Congress, and the executive branch had effectively delegated the task of writing the law of detention. In the year that has followed, a great deal has changed. A number of appellate decisions have given the lower court considerable guidance on questions that were seriously contested when we published the original paper. Some of the parameters of the law of detention that were altogether unsettled then have come into sharper focus as a result. And lower court judges have, to some degree, fallen into line. On other issues, by contrast, the law remains more or less as it was then, uncertain and subject to greatly divergent approaches by district judges with profoundly differing instincts. While in some areas, in other words, the judges have developed relatively clear rules, in others they continue to disagree. And, as then, the D.C. Circuit may not prove to be the final word. Its decisions may be merely interim steps on the way to Supreme Court consideration – meaning that the entire law of detention as it stands now could prove to be a kind of draft, a draft whose parameters remain sharply disputed and that might be torn up at any time.

The original paper is, in many respects, thus an out-of-date account of this draft – no longer an accurate guide to what is contested and what is at least tentatively resolved. Rather than simply produce a new edition of the paper, one that would just as quickly become obsolete, we decided to adapt it into a more dynamic document – one that we can update in real time as the law of detention emerges further and to which we can add additional sections covering issues we ignored the first time around.

The sections of this report are adapted from those of the original paper, on which they significantly expand, and we expect to add additional sections as the case law develops. In some areas, the development has been, and will continue to be, relatively rapid. In other areas, things change slowly. The goal is to provide, at all times, a reasonably up-to-date account of how the law of detention is changing and where it is heading on each of the bewildering array of questions on which individual judges and combinations of appellate judges are picking and choosing among the possible directions of the law.

This report proceeds in several parts. In the first section, we briefly describe the legal background that gave rise to these habeas corpus cases: the Supreme Court’s decisions recognizing federal-court jurisdiction over Guantánamo and addressing to a limited extent the contours of a legal process for detainees adequate to satisfy constitutional concerns. We highlight in particular the extent to which the court left the key questions open, a move that in the absence of further congressional action effectively delegated the writing of the rules to the judiciary. In the sections that follow, we examine the law as it is developing with respect to several of the most important questions concerning the governance of non-criminal, law-of-war-based detentions. In particular, we look at the judges’ approaches to the following questions:

• the burden of proof;
• the substantive scope of the government’s detention power;
• the question of whether a detainee’s relationship with an enemy organization, once established, is permanent or whether it can be vitiated by time or events;
• whether the government is entitled to presumptions in favor of either the accuracy or authenticity of its evidence;
• the use of hearsay evidence;
• the use of evidence alleged to result from coercion; and
• the government’s use of a “mosaic theory” of evidentiary interpretation.

We may add more sections in the coming months and will endeavor to keep the existing sections current as new cases develop.

Number of Pages in PDF File: 172

Keywords: Guantanamo, habeas, detention, voluntariness, hearsay

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Date posted: May 13, 2011  

Suggested Citation

Wittes, Benjamin and Chesney, Robert and Reynolds, Larkin, The Emerging Law of Detention 2.0: The Guantanamo Habeas Cases as Lawmaking (May 12, 2011). U of Texas Law, Public Law Research Paper No. 195. Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=1839793 or http://dx.doi.org/10.2139/ssrn.1839793

Contact Information

Benjamin Wittes
Brookings Institution ( email )
1775 Massachusetts Ave, NW
Washington, DC 20036
United States
Robert Chesney (Contact Author)
University of Texas School of Law ( email )
727 East Dean Keeton Street
Austin, TX 78705
United States

Larkin Reynolds
Brookings Institution ( email )
1775 Massachusetts Ave, NW
Washington, DC 20036
United States
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