I prigionieri della base navale di Guantanamo (Cuba) hanno diritto alla assistenza di un avvocato e ad accedere al sistema giudiziario statunitense, e ciò in quanto, sebbene non situato sul territorio degli Stati Uniti d'America, il luogo di detenzione è sotto il completo e indiscusso controllo delle autorità statunitensi.
La Corte Suprema nei casi Shafiq Rasul e altri vs G. W. Bush e Fawzi Khalid Abdullah Fahad Al Odah e altri vs. United States e altri con decisione del 28.06.2004 conferma il diritto al ricorso avanti la giurisdizione statunitense.
Di seguito il testo del primo provvedimento, comprensivo di "dissenting opinion", e il "Syllabus" della seconda decisione (quest'ultimo tratto da www.supremecourtus.gov).
In allegato il testo completo di decisione e dissenting opinion della Corte Suprema.
DEC 18 2003
CATHY A. CATTERSON
U.S. COURT OF APPEALS
UNITED STATES COURT OF APPEALS
FOR THE NINTH CIRCUIT
Petitioner - Appellant,
GEORGE WALKER BUSH; DONALD H.
Respondents - Appellees.
D.C. No. CV-03-01267-AHM
Appeal from the United States District Court
for the Central District of California
A. Howard Matz, District Judge, Presiding
Argued and Submitted August 11, 2003
San Francisco, California
Filed December 18, 2003
Before: REINHARDT, GRABER, Circuit Judges, and SHADUR, Senior District
Opinion by Judge Reinhardt.
* The Honorable Milton I. Shadur, Senior United States District Judge for the
Northern District of Illinois, sitting by designation.
This case presents the question whether the Executive Branch may hold
uncharged citizens of foreign nations in indefinite detention in territory under the
"complete jurisdiction and control" of the United States while effectively denying
them the right to challenge their detention in any tribunal anywhere, including the
courts of the U.S. The issues we are required to confront are new, important, and
In the wake of the devastating terrorist attacks on 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, or harbored such organizations or persons,
in order to prevent any future acts of international terrorism
against the United States by such nations, organizations or
Authorization for Use of Military Force , Pub. L. No. 107-40, 115 Stat. 224 (2001).
Pursuant to that authorization, the President sent U.S. forces to Afghanistan to
wage a military operation that has been commonly termed-but never formally
declared-a "war" against the Taliban government and the terrorist network known
as Al Queda.
Starting in early January 2002, the Armed Forces began transferring to
Guantanamo, a United States naval base located on territory physically situated on
the island of Cuba, 1 scores of individuals who were captured by the American
military during its operations in Afghanistan. The captured individuals were
labeled "enemy combatants." Now, for almost two years, the United States has
subjected over six hundred of these captives to indefinite detention, 2 yet has failed
to afford them any means to challenge their confinement, to object to the failure to
recognize them as prisoners of war, to consult with legal counsel, or even to
advance claims of mistaken capture or identity. Despite U.S. officials' recent stated
intention to move to begin a sorting of the detainees, electing which to release and
which to try before military tribunals on criminal charges, and the administration's
designation several months ago of six detainees (including two Britons and one
1 For convenience, we sometimes refer to Guantanamo Naval Base as
"Guantanamo" and sometimes simply as "the Base."
2 Although there is a dearth of official reports as to the conditions at
Guantanamo, there have been a number of newspaper stories reporting on the
subject, including interviews with Afghani and Pakistani citizens released without
the filing of charges. Some of the prisoners released have said that the uncertainty
of their fate, combined with linguistic isolation from others with whom they could
communicate, confinement in very small cells, little protection from the elements,
and being allowed only one one-minute shower per week led a number of detainees
to attempt suicide multiple times. See Carlotta Gall & Neil A. Lewis, Threats and
Responses: Captives; Tales of Despair from Guantanamo, N.Y. TIMES, June 17,
2003, at A1; see also Neil A. Lewis, Red Cross Criticizes Indefinite Detention in
Guantanamo, N.Y. TIMES, Oct. 10, 2003, at A1 (reporting that in 18 months, 21
detainees have made 32 suicide attempts, a high incidence which human rights
groups attribute to the uncertainty of their situation).
Australian) deemed eligible for military trials, see Neil A. Lewis, Red Cross
Criticizes Indefinite Detention in Guantanamo, N.Y. TIMES, Oct. 10, 2003, at A1,
no military tribunal has actually been convened. Nor has a single Guantanamo
detainee been given the opportunity to consult an attorney, had formal charges filed
against him, or been permitted to contest the basis of his detention in any way.
Moreover, top U.S. officials, including Secretary of Defense Rumsfeld, have made
it clear that the detainees may be held in their present circumstances until this
country's campaign against terrorism ends. Id. The administration has,
understandably, given no indication whether that event will take place in a matter of
months, years, or decades, if ever. 3
On January 20, 2002, a group of journalists, lawyers, professors, and
members of the clergy filed a petition for habeas relief before the United States
District Court for the Central District of California on behalf of the class of
unidentified individuals detained involuntarily at Guantanamo. The petition named
as respondents President Bush, Secretary Rumsfeld, and a number of military
personnel. See Coalition of Clergy v. Bush, 189 F. Supp. 2d 1036 (C.D. Cal. 2002).
3 See Neil A. Lewis,U.S. Erecting a Solid Prison at Guantanamo for Long
Term, N.Y. TIMES, Oct. 23, 2003, at A20 (discussing the building of a hard-walled
traditional prison as an acknowledgment that detainees from Afghanistan will be
kept for years).
After the district court dismissed the petition for lack of "next-friend" standing, or,
alternatively, for lack of jurisdiction under Johnson v. Eisentrager, 339 U.S. 763
(1950), this court affirmed on the ground that petitioners lacked standing, but
vacated the court's jurisdictional rulings regarding Johnson. See Coalition of
Clergy v. Bush, 310 F.3d 1153 (9th Cir. 2002).
Following our decision, Belaid Gherebi filed an amended next-friend habeas
petition in this Court, on behalf of his brother Faren, in which the standing issue is
not present. In his February 2003 Amended Petition, Gherebi 4 alleged violations of
the U.S. Constitution and the Third Geneva Convention arising out of his
involuntary detention at Guantanamo, a naval base "under the exclusive and
complete jurisdiction of the respondents," and he further claimed that,
"Respondents have characterized Gherebi as an 'unlawful combatant,' and have
denied him status as a prisoner of war, have denied him rights under the United
States Constitution,. . . have denied him access to the United States Courts," and
have denied him access to legal counsel. 5 The government did not respond.
4 From here on, "Gherebi" refers to the detainee, Faren Gherebi, rather than to
his brother and next friend, Belaid.
5 The Petition read, in relevant part:
2. Beginning on or about January 11, 2002, and continuing to
date, respondents under force of arms and involuntary brought
Thereafter, Gherebi urged this Court to resolve the "threshhold question" of
federal subject matter jurisdiction in a motion to grant his petition summarily. 6 At
that point, the government moved to dismiss Gherebi's petition without prejudice to
to U.S. Naval Station, Guantanamo Bay, Cuba (hereinafter
"GITMO"), under the exclusive and complete jurisdiction of
respondents in the nation of Cuba, Gheredi, whom respondents
captured in the nation of Afghantisan.
3. Gherebi continues to be held against his will, illegally, under
force of arms, incommunicado, and in violation of the United
States Constitution and the Third Geneva Convention, and he
has been denied access to legal representatives.
4. Respondents have characterized Gherebi as an "unlawful
combatant," and have denied him status as a prisoner of war,
have denied him rights under the United States Constitution, and
have denied him access to the United States Courts.
5. Gherebi is unlawfully detained.
6. Respondents are the persons who have illegal and exclusive
custody of Gherebi.
6 In a memorandum filed with this Court, Gherebi stated:
What is sought by this petition is: acknowledgment that Gherebi
is detained by respondents; that the reason for Gherebi's
detention be stated; that Gherebi be brought physically before
the court for a determination of his conditions of detention,
confinement, and status, which conditions are contended to be
in violation of the Due Process Clause of the Fifth and
Fourteenth Amendments and the cruel and unusual punishment
clause of the Eighth Amendment, and be ordered to be brought
into compliance with those Amendments; that Gherebi be
accorded his right under the Sixth Amendment of equal access
to counsel; that Gherebi be released; and for any and all
appropriate other and further action.
its being re-filed in the district court, or alternatively, to transfer it to the district
court so that the district judge could decide the question of jurisdiction. A motions
panel of this Court granted the government's request, transferring Gherebi's
petition to the United States District Court for the Central District of California.
After additional motions were filed with the district court urging summary
disposition of the jurisdictional question, that court issued a reasoned order on
May 13, 2003 dismissing Gherebi's petition for lack of jurisdiction. See Gherebi v.
Bush, No. CV 03-1267-AHM(JTL) (C.D. Cal. May 13, 2003) (order dismissing
petition for lack of jurisdiction). The court held that Johnson v. Eisentrager
controlled and foreclosed jurisdiction over Gherebi's petition in any federal court
because Guantanamo "is not within sovereign U.S. territory." Id. at 5. In so holding,
the court described its conclusion as "reluctant," id. at 2, and expressed hope that
"a higher court w[ould] find a principled way" to provide the remedy of habeas
corpus. Id. at 15.
On appeal before this Court, Gherebi argues that (1) the district court erred in
holding that Johnson v. Eisentrager precludes the district courts of this nation from
exercising jurisdiction over his petition; and (2) the District Court for the Central
District of California has jurisdiction to hear the writ because the custodians of the
prisoners are within the jurisdiction of the court. We agree with Gherebi on both
points. In so holding, we underscore that the issue before us is not whether
Gherebi's detention will withstand constitutional inquiry, but rather whether the
courts of the United States are entirely closed to detainees held at Guantanamo
indefinitely-detainees who would appear to have no effective right to seek relief in
the courts of any other nation or before any international judicial body.
We recognize that the process due "enemy combatant" habeas petitioners may
vary with the circumstances and are fully aware of the unprecedented challenges
that affect the United States' national security interests today, and we share the
desire of all Americans to ensure that the Executive enjoys the necessary power and
flexibility to prevent future terrorist attacks. However, even in times of national
emergency-indeed, particularly in such times-it is the obligation of the Judicial
Branch to ensure the preservation of our constitutional values and to prevent the
Executive Branch from running roughshod over the rights of citizens and aliens
alike. Here, we simply cannot accept the government's position that the Executive
Branch possesses the unchecked authority to imprison indefinitely any persons,
foreign citizens included, on territory under the sole jurisdiction and control of the
United States, without permitting such prisoners recourse of any kind to any
judicial forum, or even access to counsel, regardless of the length or manner of
their confinement. We hold that no lawful policy or precedent supports such a
counter-intuitive and undemocratic procedure, and that, contrary to the
government's contention, Johnson neither requires nor authorizes it. In our view,
the government's position is inconsistent with fundamental tenets of American
jurisprudence and raises most serious concerns under international law. 7
7 Gherebi argues that the government's policy of "indefinite detention" is
violative of international law. While we recognize the gravity of Gherebi's
argument, we need not resolve that question in this proceeding. We note, however,
that the government's position here is at odds with the United States' longtime role
as a leader in international efforts to codify and safeguard the rights of prisoners in
wartime. It is also at odds with one of the most important achievements of these
efforts-the 1949 Geneva Conventions, which require that a competent tribunal
determine the status of captured prisoners. Article 5 of the Third Geneva
Should any doubt arise as to whether persons, having
committed a belligerent act and having fallen into the hands of
the enemy, belong to any of the categories enumerated in Article
4 [defining POWs], such persons shall enjoy the protection of
the present Convention until such time as their status has been
determined by a competent tribunal.
Geneva Convention Relative to the Treatment of Prisoners of War, Aug. 12, 1949,
art. 5, 6 U.S.T. 3316, 75 U.N.T.S. 135. In Johnson v. Eisentrager, itself, the Court
discussed the United States' international obligations under the predecessor
Convention, which did not even contain the due process rights afforded prisoners
of war in the 1949 Treaty. The Court explained:
We are not holding that these prisoners have no right which the
military authorities are bound to respect. The United States, by
the Geneva Convention of July 27, 1927...concluded with forty-
six other countries, including the German Reich, an agreement
upon the treatment to be accorded captives. These prisoners
claim to be and are entitled to its protection.
339 U.S. at 789 n.14. The government's own regulations have adopted this same
requirement. See Enemy Prisoners of War, Retained Personnel, Civilian Internees
Accordingly, we reverse the ruling of the district court that jurisdiction over
Gherebi's habeas petition does not lie. Because we also conclude that personal
jurisdiction may be asserted against respondent Rumsfeld in the Central District of
California, we remand the matter to the district court for further proceedings
consistent with this opinion. We do not resolve here, and leave to the district court
to decide, the distinct and important question whether a transfer to a different
district court may be appropriate under 28 U.S.C. § 1404(a).
and Other Detainees, U.S. Army Regulation 190-8, ch. 1-5, a, Applicable to the
Departments of the Army, the Navy, the Air Force, and the Marine Corps,
Washington D.C. (Oct. 1, 1997) ("All persons taken into custody by U.S. forces will
be provided with the protections of the 1949 Geneva Convention Relative to the
Treatment of Prisoners of War ("GPW") until some legal status is determined by
competent authority."). The requirement of judicial review of executive detention is
also reflected in the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, to which
the United States is a party. See International Covenant on Civil and Political
Rights, Dec. 16, 1966, 999 U.N.T.S. 171, art. 9, 4 ("Anyone who is deprived of his
liberty by arrest or detention shall be entitled to take proceedings before a court, in
order that a court may decide without delay on the lawfulness of his detention....").
Here, however, the government has maintained that the Guantanamo detainees do
not enjoy any substantive protections as a matter of right pursuant to our
international obligations; instead, it has asserted only that it will apply "the
principles" of the Third Geneva Convention "to the extent appropriate and
consistent with military necessity." Office of the Press Secretary, Fact Sheet, Status
of Detainees at Guantanamo, Feb. 7, 2002, at 1, at
A. Johnson v. Eisentrager as a bar to jurisdiction
To support its contention that habeas jurisdiction does not lie with respect to
the Guantanamo detainees in the Central District or any other district court of the
United States, the government relies primarily on Johnson v. Eisentrager, 339 U.S.
763 (1950). Johnson involved a habeas petition by German enemy prisoners
detained in Landsberg Prison, Germany, after being tried and sentenced to a fixed
term of confinement by a U.S. Military Commission in Nanking, China for
offenses committed in China subsequent to the unconditional surrender of
Germany at the end of World War II. The Court declined to exercise jurisdiction,
holding that the German national petitioners, tried in China for acts committed
there, and confined to prison in Germany, had no right to seek a writ of habeas
corpus in a United States court to test the legality of such detention. Id. at 790.
In connection with its holding, the Court discussed two factors: first, that the
prisoners were "alien enemies" in a declared war, see generally id. at 769-776
(discussing the significance of alien enemy status and the reach of jurisdiction); and
second, that the petitioners were detained outside "any territory over the which the
United States is sovereign, and the scenes of their offense, their capture, their trial
and their punishment were all beyond the territorial jurisdiction of any court of the
United States." Id. at 777-78; see generally id. at 777-85 (discussing the significance
of extraterritorial situs, or situs outside U.S. sovereign territory, and the reach of
jurisdiction). The Court explained:
We are cited to no instance where a court, in this or any
other country where the writ is known, has issued it on
behalf of an alien enemy who, at no relevant time and in
no stage of his captivity, has been within its territorial
jurisdiction. Nothing in the text of the Constitution
extends such a right, nor does anything in our statutes.
399 U.S. at 768 (emphasis added). The Johnson Court did not suggest that the mere
"alien enemy" status of petitioners would be sufficient in itself for the denial of
habeas jurisdiction; rather it emphasized that in the case of alien enemies habeas is
not available when their acts and the situs of their trial and detention all lie outside
of this nation's territorial jurisdiction. 8
The government contends that the exercise of habeas jurisdiction over
Gherebi's petition is foreclosed by Johnson because the conditions that justified the
Court's decision there apply equally to Gherebi and the other Guantanamo
8 Although the Court discussed the question whether certain Fifth
Amendment rights were available to enemy soldiers (and stated that they were not),
the essence of its holding is as set forth above. Certainly, the government construes
Johnson as foreclosing the right of enemy aliens to file habeas petitions in cases in
which there is no relevant connection with U.S. territorial jurisdiction or
sovereignty, as the case may be. We accept that construction for purposes of this
appeal. We also believe it to be the most reasonable construction of the Court's
decision. Whether that decision should stand is, of course, a matter for the
Supreme Court and not for us.
detainees. We may assume, for purposes of this appeal, that most, if not all of
those being held at Guantanamo, including Gherebi, are the equivalent of "alien
enemies," indeed "enemy combatants," although we do not foreclose here
Gherebi's right to challenge the validity of that assumption upon remand. The
dispositive issue, for purposes of this appeal, as the government acknowledges,
relates to the legal status of Guantanamo, the site of petitioner's detention. It is our
determination of that legal status that resolves the question regarding the dispositive
jurisdictional factor: whether or not Gherebi is being detained within the territorial
jurisdiction of the United States or within its sovereign jurisdiction, as the case may
On this appeal, the government does not dispute that if Gherebi is being
detained on U.S. territory, jurisdiction over his habeas petition will lie, whether or
not he is an "enemy alien." In Ex parte Quirin, 317 U.S. 1(1942) and In re
Yamashita, 327 U.S. 1(1946), the Court reviewed the merits of the habeas petitions
filed by enemy alien prisoners detained in U.S. sovereign (or then-sovereign)
territory. In Quirin, the Court rejected on the merits the claim of enemy German
petitioners held in Washington DC (and executed there) that the President was
without statutory or constitutional authority to order them to be tried by a military
commission for the offenses with which they were charged and had been convicted
by the Commission; it then ruled that the Commission had been lawfully constituted
and the petitioners lawfully tried and punished by it. 317 U.S. at 20-21. In
Yamashita, the Court reviewed on the merits a similar World War II habeas claim
on behalf of an enemy Japanese general, detained in the Philippines, which was
U.S. territory at the time. Yamashita had already been tried, convicted, and
sentenced to death by a military commission. Following Quirin, 327 U.S. at 7-9,
the Court determined that the commission had been lawfully constituted, and that
petitioner was lawfully detained pursuant to his conviction and sentence. Id. at 25-
6. We need not resolve the question of what constitutional claims persons detained
at Guantanamo may properly allege if jurisdiction to entertain habeas claims exists.
Suffice it to say that if jurisdiction does lie, the detainees are not wholly without
rights to challenge in habeas their indefinite detention without a hearing or trial of
any kind, and the conditions of such detention.
1. Territorial Jurisdiction and Sovereignty
With respect to the Guantanamo detainees, the government contends that,
under Johnson, the touchstone of the jurisdictional inquiry is sovereignty-not mere
territorial jurisdiction-and that the United States does not maintain sovereignty
over the territory at issue. Jurisdiction is foreclosed, the government argues,
because although the 1903 Lease agreement (and the 1934 Treaty continuing the
agreement ["the Lease and continuing Treaty"]) 9 which governs
9 The United States occupies Guantanamo under a lease entered into by
President Theodore Roosevelt with the Cuban government in 1903, supplemented
by a 1903 agreement, and continued in effect by a subsequent treaty executed by
President Franklin Delano Roosevelt in 1934. The treaty is of indefinite duration
and cannot be terminated without the United States' agreement, or the abandonment
of the base property by the United States.
The 1903 Lease was meant to implement the provisions of Article VII of a
1901 Act of Congress (and of Article VII of the Appendix to the Constitution of
Cuba) (the "Platt Amendment") providing for the sale or lease of land to the U.S.
for coaling or naval stations "to enable the United States to maintain the
independence of Cuba, and to protect the people thereof, as well as for its own
defense" following the Spanish-American War. See Agreement Between the United
States and Cuba for the Lease of Lands for Coaling and Naval Stations, Feb. 16-23,
1903, U.S.-Cuba, T.S. 418 (excerpting Article VII and explaining this purpose)
[hereinafter "the 1903 Lease"]. Article III of the Lease reads, in pertinent part:
While on the one hand the United States recognizes the
continuance of the ultimate sovereignty of the Republic of Cuba
over the above described areas of land and water, on the other
hand the Republic of Cuba consents that during the period of
the occupation by the United States of said areas under the terms
of this agreement the United States shall exercise complete
jurisdiction and control over and within said areas with the
right to acquire...for the public purposes of the United States
any land or other property therein by purchase or by exercise of
eminent domain with full compensation to the owners thereof.
Id., art. III (emphasis added).
Under a supplementary agreement, the United States was afforded the
exclusive right to try citizens and non-citizens for crimes committed on the Base.
Article IV reads, in relevant part:
Fugitives from justice charged with crimes or
misdemeanors amenable to Cuban Law, taking refuge within
said areas, shall be delivered up by the United States authorities
on demand by duly authorized Cuban authorities.
the terms of Guantanamo's territorial relationship to the United States cedes to the
U.S. "complete jurisdiction and control" over the Base, it recognizes the
"continuance of ultimate sovereignty" in Cuba. In other words, in the
government's view, whatever the Lease and continuing Treaty say about the United
States' complete territorial jurisdiction, Guantanamo falls outside U.S. sovereign
territory-a distinction it asserts is controlling under Johnson.
Although we agree with the government that the outcome of the jurisdictional
question in this case hinges on the legal status of the situs of Gherebi's detention,
we do not read Johnson as holding that the prerequisite for the exercise of
On the other hand, the Republic of Cuba agrees that
fugitives from justice charged with crimes or misdemeanors
amenable to United States law, committed within said areas,
taking refuge in Cuban territory, shall on demand, be delivered
up to duly authorized United States authorities.
See Lease of Certain Areas for Naval or Coaling Stations, July 2, 1903, U.S.-Cuba,
art. IV, T.S. No. 426 (emphasis added) [hereinafter "the 1903 Supplemental
Agreement"]. Under Article I of the same, the U.S. agreed to pay Cuba the annual
sum of two thousand dollars in rent, see id., art. I; and under Article III, the United
States agreed to a limit on establishing commercial or industrial enterprises on the
lands. Id., art. III.
A 1934 treaty reaffirmed the original 1903 agreements, extending the Lease in
the same form and on the same conditions "[s]o long as the United States of
America shall not abandon the said naval station of Guantanamo" and the two
contracting parties do not "agree to the modification or abrogation of the
stipulations of the agreement." Treaty Defining Relations with Cuba, May 29, 1934,
U.S.-Cuba, art. III, 48 Stat. 1682, 1683, T.S. No. 866.
jurisdiction is sovereignty rather than territorial jurisdiction. Nor do we believe
that the jurisdiction the United States exercised over Landsberg Prison in Germany
is in any way analogous to the jurisdiction that this nation exercises over
Guantanamo. When the Johnson petitioners were detained in Landsberg, the
limited and shared authority the U.S. exercised over the Prison on a temporary
basis nowhere approached the United States' potentially permanent exercise of
complete jurisdiction and control over Guantanamo, including the right of eminent
domain. The United States has exercised "complete jurisdiction and control" over
the Base for more than one century now, "with the right to acquire...any land or
other property therein by purchase or by exercise of eminent domain with full
compensation to the owners thereof." 10 We have also treated Guantanamo as if it
10 There was no lease or treaty conveying total and exclusive U.S. jurisdiction
and control over Landsberg. In fact, after Landsberg was taken over by U.S. forces
following World War II, three flags flew over the town: the American, British, and
French flags. See History of Landsberg Airbase,
(last visited Nov. 10, 2003). Although the Johnson petitioners were held pursuant to
conviction by proceedings conducted under U.S. auspices, the Landsberg criminal
facility was formally designated with the purpose of serving as a prison where
executions of war criminals convicted during the Allied trials at Nuremberg, Dachau
and Shanghi would be carried out, and the arrangement was dissolved a little more
than a decade thereafter, in May 1958. See Landsberg Prison for War Criminals,
tml (last visited at Nov. 10, 2003). That the named respondents in Johnson-the
Secretary of Defense, Secretary of the Army, Chief of Staff of the Army, and the
were subject to American sovereignty: we have acted as if we intend to retain the
Base permanently, and have exercised the exclusive, unlimited right to use it as we
wish, regardless of any restrictions contained in the Lease or continuing Treaty.
When conducting its jurisdictional inquiry in Johnson, the Court spoke at
different times of U.S. "territorial jurisdiction" and "sovereignty"-using the latter
term on a minority of occasions 11 because it was indisputable that Landsberg Prison
Joint Chiefs of Staff-denied that petitioner's immediate custodian, the
Commanding General of the European Command, "was subject to their direction,"
is telling of the less-than-exclusive nature of U.S. control over the prison. Johnson,
339 U.S. at 766-68.
11 The Court spoke to the issue of the extraterritorial situs of petitioners in
eight instances in the opinion; at only two of these points does the term "sovereign"
or "sovereignty" appear. See, e.g., 339 U.S. at 768 ("We are cited to no instance
where a court, in this or any other country where the writ is known, has issued it on
behalf of an alien enemy who, at no relevant time and in no stage of his captivity,
has been within its territorial jurisdiction.") (emphasis added); id. at 771 ("But in
extending constitutional protections beyond the citizenry, the Court has been at
pains to point out that it was the alien's presence within its territorial jurisdiction
that gave the Judiciary power to act.") (emphasis added). Moreover, the dissent
never uses the word "sovereignty" and strongly criticizes the majority for making
"territorial jurisdiction" the touchstone of the jurisdictional inquiry. See id. at 952
(Black, J., dissenting) ("Conceivably a majority may hereafter find citizenship a
sufficient substitute for territorial jurisdiction and thus permit courts to protect
Americans from illegal sentences. But the Court's opinion inescapably denies courts
power to afford the least bit of protection for any alien who is subject to our
occupation government abroad, even if he is neither enemy nor belligerent and
even after peace is officially declared.") (emphasis added).
was not within either U.S. territorial jurisdiction or U.S. sovereign territory. The
only question for the Johnson Court was whether it could exercise jurisdiction over
petitioners' habeas claims in light of the fact that they were being detained on
foreign ground that was not, under any recognized legal standard, treated as
American territory. And while the Court expressly distinguished Yamashita on the
basis that the United States possessed "sovereignty at this time over these insular
possessions," (the Philippines), the Court nowhere suggested that "sovereignty," as
opposed to "territorial jurisdiction," was a necessary factor. In fact, immediately
following this statement, the Court specifically noted three "heads of jurisdiction"
that petitioners might have invoked, none of which used the term "sovereignty" and
all of which referred instead to "territory":
Yamashita's offenses were committed on our territory, he was
tried within the jurisdiction of our insular courts and he was
imprisoned within territory of the United States. None of these
heads of jurisdiction can be invoked by these prisoners.
Id. at 780 (emphasis added). Accordingly, Johnson in no way compels the
conclusion that, where the U.S. exercises "territorial jurisdiction" over a situs, that
degree of territorial authority and control is not sufficient to support habeas
jurisdiction . To the contrary, it strongly implies that territorial jurisdiction is
sufficient. In short, we do not believe that Johnson may properly be read to
require "sovereignty" as an essential prerequisite of habeas jurisdiction. 12 Rather
12 At least two Justices of the current Court appear to agree. See Zadvydas v.
Davis, 533 U.S. 678, 704 n.* (2001) (Scalia, J., dissenting) (stating, in a dissent
joined by Justice Thomas, that Johnson involved the "military's detention of enemy
aliens outside the territorial jurisdiction of the United States") (emphasis added).
That Johnson should not be read to foreclose jurisdiction where the United
States exercises exclusive authority and control is bolstered by Justice Jackson's
own dissent several years later in Shaughnessy v. U.S. ex. rel. Mezei, 345 U.S. 209,
218 (1953), in which the author of the Johnson majority opinion expressed strong
views about the requisites of procedural due process where an alien was detained
indefinitely on a unique parcel of U.S. territory, "in his temporary haven on Ellis
Island." Id. at 207. In Shaughnessy, an alien immigrant permanently excluded from
the United States on security grounds, and functionally detained indefinitely on Ellis
Island because other countries would not take him back, petitioned for habeas
corpus asserting unlawful confinement. The majority treated his case like a regular
exclusion proceeding, and denied Mezei's petition. In vigorous dissent, Justice
Fortunately, it is still startling, in this country, to find a person
held indefinitely in executive custody without accusation of a
crime or judicial trial...Procedural fairness and regularity are of
the indispensable essence of liberty...Because the respondent has
no right of entry, does it follow that he has no rights at all?
Does the power to exclude mean that exclusion may be
continued or effectuated by any means which happen to seem
appropriate to the authorities?...when indefinite confinement
becomes the means of enforcing exclusion, it seems to me that
due process requires that the alien be informed of its grounds
and have a fair chance to overcome them...It is inconceivable to
me that this measure of simple justice and fair dealing would
menace the security of this country. No one can make me
believe that we are that far gone.
Id. at 632-37. Although the legal status of Guantanamo is not as clear-cut as that of
Ellis Island, the eloquent words of Johnson's author carry a powerful message for
the present case and caution strongly against a narrow reading of his earlier
territorial jurisdiction is enough.
It is evident that the United States exercises sole territorial jurisdiction over
Guantanamo. "Territorial jurisdiction" exists as to "territory over which a
government or a subdivision thereof, or court, has jurisdiction." See BLACK'S LAW
DICTIONARY 1473 (6th ed. 1990). The U.S. government exercises the "power to
proscribe, prescribe, adjudicate, and enforce the law" in Guantanamo, see New
Jersey v. New York, No. 120, 1997 WL 291594, at * 28 (U.S. 1997), received at 520
U.S. 1273, and reviewed at 523 U.S. 767 (1998) (describing the "natural and
ordinary meaning of 'jurisdiction'"), and further, the government's jurisdiction is
both "complete," see 1903 Lease, art. III, supra note 9, and exclusive, see 1903
Supplemental Agreement, art. IV, id (providing that U.S. courts exercise exclusive
criminal jurisdiction over citizens and aliens, alike, for offenses committed on the
Base). See also 6 Op. Off. Legal Counsel 236, 242 (1982) (opinion of then Asst.
Attorney General Ted Olsen) (concluding that Guantanamo falls within "exclusive
United States' jurisdiction," "because of the lease terms which grant the United
States 'complete jurisdiction and control over' that property"). Where a nation
exercises "exclusive jurisdiction" over a territory, territorial jurisdiction lies. See
U.S. v. Corey, 232 F.3d 1166, 1172-76 (9th Cir. 2000) (examining a provision of a
congressional act that defined territorial jurisdiction to include territory within the
"exclusive jurisdiction" of the United States).
Here, the relationship between territorial jurisdiction and the right to file
habeas petitions is particularly clear. The United States exercises exclusive criminal
jurisdiction over all persons, citizens and aliens alike, who commit criminal
offenses at the Base, pursuant to Article IV of the Supplemental Agreement. See
supra note 9. We subject persons who commit crimes at Guantanamo to trial in
United States courts. 13 Surely, such persons enjoy the right to habeas corpus in at
least some respects. Under these circumstances, for purposes of our jurisdictional
13 For example, in United States v. Rogers, 388 F. Supp. 298, 301 (E.D. Va.
1975), a U.S. civilian employee, working on the Naval Base at Guantanamo Bay
under a contract with the Navy, was prosecuted in the Eastern District of Virginia
for drug offenses committed on the Base in violation of 21 U.S.C. §§ 841, 846. In
considering Rogers' motion to suppress and Fourth Amendment claim, the court
By the lease, Cuba agreed that the United States should have
complete control over criminal matters occurring within the
confines of the base. It is clear to us that under the leasing
agreement, United States law is to apply.
Id. See also United States v. Lee, 906 F.2d 117, 117 & n.1 (4th Cir. 1990) (per
curiam) (appeal from dismissal of indictment of Jamaican national who had been
charged with sexual abuse that allegedly occurred on Guantanamo. The
government served subpoenas on all defense witnesses and transported them to
Norfolk, Virginia, the site of the trial.); Haitian Ctrs. Council Inc. v. McNary, 969
F.2d 1326, 1342 (2d Cir. 1992), vacated as moot sub. nom. Sale v. Haitian Ctrs.
Council, Inc., 509 U.S. 918 (1993) (describing testimony, in the context of this
Second Circuit trial, consistent with applying U.S. criminal law to citizens and non-
citizens accused of crimes on the Base).
inquiry, it is apparent that the United States exercises exclusive territorial
jurisdiction over Guantanamo and that by virtue of its exercise of such jurisdiction,
habeas rights exist for persons located at the Base. We reiterate that the essence of
our inquiry involves the legal status of the situs of petitioner's detention-not the
question whether "enemy combatants" in general are precluded from filing habeas
petitions, or the question whether any particular constitutional issues may be raised.
The first of these questions is answered by Quirin and Yamashita and the second is
not before us.
In sum, we conclude that by virtue of the United States' exercise of territorial
jurisdiction over Guantanamo, habeas jurisdiction lies in the present case. 14
14 In Al Odah v. United States, 321 F.3d 1134 (D.C. Cir. 2003), cert. granted,
2003 WL 22070725 (Nov. 10, 2003), the only other Court of Appeals decision to
consider the question presented here, the DC Circuit rejected petitioners' arguments
that Johnson "does not turn on technical definitions of sovereignty or territory,"
and opined that the text of the leases shows that Cuba-not the United States-has
sovereignty over Guantanamo. 321 F.3d at 1142-43. In so holding, the DC Circuit
relied in part on Cuban Am. Bar Ass'n v. Christopher, 43 F.3d 1412 (11th Cir.
1995), in which the Eleventh Circuit rejected the argument that "'control and
jurisdiction' is equivalent to sovereignty," id. at 1425, to find that Cuban and
Haitian migrants interdicted on the seas and detained outside the physical borders of
the United States at Guantanamo were without constitutional and statutory rights
cognizable in the courts of the United States.
The Second Circuit, however, expressed a contrary view three years before
Cuban American. In Haitian Ctrs., 969 F.2d at 1341-45, the Second Circuit
affirmed a preliminary injunction prohibiting the government from returning to
Haiti Haitian nationals interdicted at sea and detained at Guantanamo in the absence
Although our conclusion is dispositive of the principal issue before us, we also
consider an alternative ground for our holding: whether the U.S. exercises
sovereignty over Guantanamo.
2. Sovereignty and the 1903 Lease and Continuing Treaty of 1934
Even if we assume that Johnson requires sovereignty, our decision that
habeas jurisdiction lies is the same. In this regard, we conclude that, at least for
habeas purposes, Guantanamo is a part of the sovereign territory of the United
of a fair adjudication as to whether they were bonafide asylees. In its opinion, the
court expressly distinguished Johnson, noting that Johnson, "which involved
convicted, enemy aliens in occupied territories outside the United States," does not
resolve the question of whether "the fifth amendment applies to non-accused, non-
hostile aliens held incommunicado on a military base within the exclusive control
of the United States, namely Guantanamo Bay." 969 F.2d at 1343. The Second
Circuit further explained:
It does not appear to us to be incongruous or overreaching to
conclude that the United States Constitution limits the conduct
of United States personnel with respect to officially authorized
interactions with aliens brought to and detained by such
personnel on a land mass exclusively controlled by the United
States...given the undisputed applicability of federal criminal
laws to incidents that occur there and the apparent familiarity of
the governmental personnel at the base with the guarantees of
due process, fundamental fairness and humane treatment which
this country purports to afford to all persons.
Id. Although Haitian Centers was subsequently vacated as moot pursuant to
party settlement, see Sale v. Haitian Ctrs. Council, Inc., 509 U.S. 918 (1993), we
find the Second Circuit's views to be persuasive, see Edwards v. Madigan, 281
F.2d 73, 78 n.3 (9th Cir. 1960), and have, in fact, recently cited this case with
approval. See Corey, 232 F.3d at 1172.
States. Both the language of the Lease and continuing Treaty and the practical
reality of U.S. authority and control over the Base support that answer. Moreover,
the present case is far more analogous to Yamashita than to Johnson: here, like in
Yamashita but contrary to the circumstances in Johnson, the United States exercises
total dominion and control over the territory in question and possesses rights of
eminent domain, powers inherent in the exercise of sovereignty, while Cuba retains
simply a contingent reversionary interest that will become effective only if and
when the United States decides to relinquish its exclusive jurisdiction and control,
i.e. sovereign dominion, over the territory. Thus, we hold that the prerequisite to
the exercise of habeas jurisdiction is met in the case of Guantanamo, whether that
prerequisite be "territorial jurisdiction" or "sovereignty."
We now turn to an analysis of the term "sovereignty" and its application, for
purposes of habeas, to the United States' role at Guantanamo. The government
argues that, under the plain terms of the Lease, the "continuance" of Cuba's
"ultimate" sovereignty means that Cuba retains "maximum" or "definitive"
sovereignty over the Base during the indefinite period of U.S. reign, and
consequently, that Guantanamo cannot be classified as U.S. sovereign territory for
the purposes of our jurisdictional inquiry. The government's assertion requires us
to consider whether "ultimate" is to be construed as a "temporal" or a "qualitative"
modifier. In other words, does the Lease (and the 1934 continuing Treaty) vest
sovereignty in Cuba "ultimately" in the sense that Cuba's sovereignty becomes
substantively effective if and when the United States decides to abandon its physical
and absolute control of the territory (or to put it differently, is Cuba's sovereignty
residual in a temporal sense); or does the Lease (and the continuing Treaty) vest
"basic, fundamental" or "maximum" (the alternative qualitative meaning of
"ultimate" discussed infra) sovereignty in Cuba at all times, and specifically during
the indefinite period in which the United States maintains complete jurisdiction and
control over the Base? We conclude that, as used in the Lease, "ultimate
sovereignty"can only mean temporal and not qualitative sovereignty. We also
conclude that, during the unlimited and potentially permanent period of U.S.
possession and control over Guantanamo, the United States possesses and exercises
all of the attributes of sovereignty, while Cuba retains only a residual or
reversionary sovereignty interest, contingent on a possible future United States'
decision to surrender its complete jurisdiction and control. 15
15 A former Commander of the Base has expressed the same view of U.S.
sovereign authority in Guantanamo in his history of the Naval Base, posted on the
U.S. Navy's official website. He writes:
[T]he U.S. has recognized "the continuance of the ultimate
sovereignty of Cuba over and above the leased areas."
"Ultimate," meaning final or eventual, is a key word here. It is
"Ultimate" is defined principally in temporal, not qualitative, terms. Black's
Law Dictionary defines "ultimate" to mean:
At last, finally, at the end. The last in the train of progression or
sequence tended toward by all that preceeds; arrived at as the last
BLACK'S LAW DICTIONARY 1522. Similarly, Webster's Third New International's
first two definitions state:
ultimatus completed, last, final
1a: most remote in space or time: farthest, earliest ...
2a: tended toward by all that preceeds: arrived at as the last result...
WEBSTER'S THIRD NEW INTERNATIONAL DICTIONARY 2479 (1976). Webster's then
gives as the less-frequently used meaning the definition urged here by the
3a: basic, fundamental, original, primitive...
interpreted that Cuban sovereignty is interrupted during the
period of our occupancy, since we exercise complete
jurisdiction and control, but in the case occupation were
terminated, the area would revert to the ultimate sovereignty of
THE HISTORY OF GUANTANAMO BAY, vol. I, ch. III, at
http://www.nsgtmo.navy.mil/gazette/History_98-64/hischp3.htm (last visited Nov.
The primary definition (including Webster's first and second meanings)
dictates a construction of the Lease under which sovereignty reverts to Cuba if and
when the United States decides to relinquish control. Therefore, under that
definition, the United States enjoys sovereignty during the period it occupies the
territory. Adopting the alternative qualitative construction (Webster's third and
fourth meanings, and the government's proffered definition) would render the
word "ultimate" wholly superfluous. If the Lease vests sovereignty in Cuba during
the indefinite period as to which it has ceded to the U.S. "complete jurisdiction and
control," nothing would be added to the use of the term "sovereignty" by
employing a modifier describing sovereignty as "basic, fundamental" or
"maximum." If the government's understanding of ultimate were correct, no
sovereignty would vest in the United States at any time and all sovereignty would
vest in Cuba at all times with or without the use of the word "ultimate." In such
circumstance, a simple statement that Cuba retains sovereignty would suffice. In
contrast, construing "ultimate" to mean "last, final" or "arrived at as the last result,"
or in practical terms a reversionary right if and when the lease is terminated by the
United States, serves to define the nature of Cuban sovereignty provided for under
the Lease and gives meaning and substantive effect to the term "ultimate." Under
the preferred construction of "ultimate," the use of that term in the Lease
establishes the temporal and contingent nature of Cuba's sovereignty, specifying
that it comes into being only in the event that the United States abandons
Guantanamo: in such case, Guantanamo reverts to Cuba and to Cuban sovereignty
rather than being subject to some other actual or attempted disposition. Most
important, under the preferred temporal construction, Cuba does not retain any
substantive sovereignty during the term of the U.S. occupation, with the result that,
during such period, sovereignty vests in the United States. This Court's duty to
give effect, where possible, to every word of a treaty, see United States v.
Menasche, 348 U.S. 528, 538-539 (1955), should make us reluctant to deem treaty
terms, or terms used in other important international agreements, as surplusage.
See Duncan v. Walker, 533 U.S. 167, 174 (2001). This is especially the case when a
term occupies a pivotal place in a legal scheme, id., as does the word "ultimate" in
Article III of the 1903 Lease. In construing the Lease and continuing Treaty, we
adopt the primary, temporal definition of the term, as used in the English
language-a term that gives its use as a modifier substantive meaning. 16
16 The government also argues that the definition of this pivotal term in the
Spanish version of the Treaty (soberania "definitiva") lends support for a
qualitative construction of "ultimate." The government defines "definitiva" as
"que no admite cambios" or "not subject to change," and then contends, relying on
U.S. v. Percheman, 32 U.S. (7 Pet.) 51, 88 (1833), that "'ultimate' itself is more
naturally defined in this context as 'basic, fundamental, original, primitive.'" It is
this definition, the government argues, that best comports with Percheman's
doctrine that "if the English and Spanish parts can, without violence, be made to
agree, that construction which establishes this conformity ought to prevail." 32 U.S.
The government's construction inverts the conclusion that the Percheman
doctrine compels. In fact, the Spanish definition of this pivotal term offers further
support for a temporal construction of "ultimate." "Definitiva" can mean either 1)
final; that which concludes ("temporal") or 2) decisive ("qualitative"), but even
where "definitiva" is defined in qualitative terms, it always has a temporal element.
For example, the authoritative dictionary of the Spanish language defines
"definitiva" in both temporal and qualitative terms as "que decide, resuelve o
concluye," or "that which decides, resolves, or concludes" (emphasis added). See
REAL ACADEMIA ESPANOLA, at http://www.rae.es/ (last visited Nov. 10, 2003). To
illustrate a common usage of the term, this dictionary then offers the oft-cited mixed
"temporal"/ "qualitative" example of "sentencia definitiva" or "final judgment of
conviction"-a judgment that is both final and decisive; a judgment that is both last
in time and that constitutes the dispositive order. Id.; see also GRAN DICCIONARIO
LAROUSSE 214 (2002) (giving as an example for "definitiva" another mixed
"temporal"/"qualitative" example, "El proyecto definitivo," translated as "the final
plan."). Other Spanish dictionaries confirm that "definitiva" is subject to both
temporal and qualitative meanings, see, e.g., DICCIONARIO VOX, at
http://www.diccionarios.com (last visited Nov. 10, 2003) (defining "definitiva" as
"que decide o concluye," or, "that which decides or concludes"), and Spanish-
English dictionaries also support a dual temporal/qualitative definition. See
LAROUSSE DICTIONARY 84 (1989) (defining "definitiva" in English as "definitive;
final"); AMERICAN HERITAGE SPANISH DICTIONARY, at
That the Lease uses the word "continuance" to describe Cuba's "ultimate
sovereignty" does nothing to undercut the temporal construction of "ultimate." As
we have explained, during the period the United States exercises dominion and
control, i.e. sovereignty, over Guantanamo, Cuba retains a contingent sovereign
interest-a reversionary right that springs into being upon a lawful termination of
the U.S. reign. It is this reversionary interest that is "continued" even as substantive
(or qualitative) sovereignty is ceded to the United States. In effect, the lease
functions not unlike a standard land disposition contract familiar in the area of
property law, in which the partitioning of a bundle of rights into present and future
interests is commonplace. 17
http://education.yahoo.com/reference/dict_en_es/ (last visited Nov. 10, 2003)
(same). Thus, under Percheman's doctrine, the analysis is formulaic and the answer
evident: because the English word "ultimate" is principally defined in temporal
terms, and the Spanish term "definitiva" is susceptible to either temporal or
qualitative definitions, or a mixed definition, it is the temporal definition that
17 The division or sharing of sovereignty is commonplace. Sovereignty "is
not an indivisible whole[.]" WEBSTER'S THIRD NEW INTERNATIONAL 2179 (defining
"sovereignty"). See also Jones v. U.S., 137 U.S. 202, 212 (1890) (recognizing a
distinction between de jure and de facto sovereignty).
Finally, the term "ultimate" sovereignty must be construed in context. It is
clearly the temporal definition of "ultimate," not its qualitative counterpart, that
most naturally and accurately describes the nature of Cuban sovereignty in
Guantanamo. By the plain terms of the agreement, the U.S. acquires full dominion
and control over Guantanamo, as well as the right to purchase land and the power
of eminent domain. Until such time as the United States determines to surrender its
rights, it exercises full and exclusive executive, legislative and judicial control over
the territory, and Cuba retains no rights of any kind to do anything with respect to
the Base. 18 If "ultimate" can mean either "final" (temporal) or "basic, fundamental,
and maximum" (qualitative), given that Cuba does not under the agreement retain
18 To the extent that the Lease purported to limit the types of activities the U.S.
may conduct, that particular aspect of the agreement lost any and all practical and
legal significance when the U.S. ceased to recognize Cuba diplomatically in 1961,
and began thereafter to act in direct contravention of the terms of the agreement, up
to and including the present use of Guantanamo as a prisoner of war camp for
suspected Taliban fighters. See infra Part II(A)(3). In any event, even while
effective, the limitation did not curtail the United States' exclusive authority and
control over the Base, serve to reserve qualitative sovereignty to Cuba during the
period of U.S. occupation, or afford any rights to Cuba to exercise any jurisdiction
during the unlimited period of U.S. dominion and control. See, e.g., 29 Op. Att'y
Gen. 269, 270-71 (1911) ("[W]hen property is acquired by one state in another state
by virtue of a treaty, any sovereignty which may attach to the property so acquired
is limited by the terms on which, and the purposes for which, the property was
acquired...There seems to be nothing in reason or in law which prohibits such a situation.").
any degree of control or jurisdiction over Guantanamo during the period of United
States occupation, the use of the term "ultimate" as a modifier of "sovereignty" in
that agreement can only mean "final"(temporal) and not "basic, fundamental, and
maximum" (qualitative). Accordingly, we conclude that the Lease and continuing
Treaty must be construed as providing that Cuba possesses no substantive
sovereignty over Guantanamo during the period of the U.S. reign. All such
sovereignty during that indefinite and potentially permanent period is vested in the
3. Conduct of the Parties Subsequent to the Lease and Continuing Treaty
There is another consideration that militates in favor of our concluding that the
United States is presently exercising sovereignty over Guantanamo. For a
considerable period of time, our government has purposely acted in a manner
directly inconsistent with the terms of the Lease and continuing Treaty. Those
agreements limit U.S. use of the territory to a naval base and coaling station. Contrary
to the relevant provisions of the agreements, the United States has used the Base for
whatever purposes it deemed necessary or desirable. Cuba has protested these
actions in public fora and for years has refused to cash the United States' rent checks.
See Center for International Policy's Cuba Project, Statement by the Government of
Cuba to the National and International Public Opinion (Jan. 11, 2002), at
http://ciponline.org/cuba/cubaproject/cubanstatement.htm (last visited Nov. 10, 2003).
At the same time, the Cuban government has admitted that it is powerless to prevent
U.S. uses that conflict with the terms of the Lease and continuing Treaty. 19 Id.
Sovereignty may be gained by a demonstration of intent to exercise sovereign
control on the part of a country that is in possession of the territory in question and
that has the power to enforce its will. See States v. Rice, 17 U.S. (4 Wheat.) 246, 254
(1819) (hostile occupation gives "firm possession" and the "fullest rights of
sovereignty" to the occupying power, while suspending the sovereign authority of the
land whose territory is being occupied); Cobb v. U.S., 191 F.2d 604, 608 (9th Cir.
1951) (an occupying power may acquire sovereignty through an act of formal
annexation or "an expression of intention to retain the conquered territory
permanently"); see also Fleming v. Page, 50 U.S. (9 How.) 603, 614 (1850) (the U.S.
19 In a January 11, 2002 statement issued to the international community as the
detainees were arriving at Guantanamo, the Cuban government lamented the unfair
conditions imposed by the Treaty and its powerlessness to stop U.S. transgressions.
The Statement reads, in part:
[T]hroughout more than four decades, that base has been put to
multiple uses, none of them contemplated in the agreement that
justified its presence in our territory. But Cuba could do
absolutely nothing to prevent it[.]
Statement by the Government of Cuba to the National and International Public
Opinion, at http://ciponline.org/cuba/cubaproject/cubanstatement.htm.
had "sovereignty and dominion" over the occupied Mexican territory, where "the
country was in the exclusive and firm possession of the U.S., and governed by its
military authorities acting under the orders of the President"). Cf. Neely v. Henkel,
180 U.S. 109, 119 (1901) (where the occupation policy expressly disavows "exercise
of sovereignty, jurisdiction, or control" over the occupied area, and is aimed at the
establishment of a government to which the area may be restored, this occupied
territory is considered "foreign"). With respect to Guantanamo, the sovereign face of
U.S. authority and power has taken shape in recent decades. It has emerged,
practically, through the concrete actions of a powerful nation intent on enforcing the
right to use the territory it occupies without regard to any limitations. Whatever
question may have existed about our sovereignty previously, our insistence on our
right to use the territory for any and all purposes we desire, and our refusal to
recognize the specific limitation on our rights provided in the Lease and continuing
Treaty, removes any doubt that our sovereignty over Guantanamo is complete.
The United States originally leased the Base, pursuant to the 1903 agreement,
for use as a naval and coaling station. See 1903 Lease, supra note 9. Base relations
remained stable through the two world wars, but after the United States terminated
diplomatic relations with Cuba in 1961, following the Cuban revolution, the United
States began to use the base for purposes contrary to the terms of the agreement. See
Guantanamo Bay, A Brief History, at http://www.nsgtmo.navy.mil/Default.htm (last
visited Nov. 10, 2003). At the same time, many citizens of the host country sought
refuge on the Base, and U.S. Marines and Cuban militiamen began patrolling
opposite sides of the Base's fence line-patrols that have continued 24 hours a day
ever since. Id. In 1964, Fidel Castro cut off water and supplies to the Base and
Guantanamo became and remains entirely self-sufficient, with its own water plant,
schools, transportation, entertainment facilities, and fast-food establishments. See
Gerald Neuman, Anomalous Zones, 48 STAN. L. REV. 1197, 1198 (1996). As of 1988,
approximately 6,500 people lived on the Base, including civilian employees of several
nationalities, see id. (describing the findings of one researcher), and the United States
has employed hundreds of foreign nationals at Guantanamo, including Cuban exiles
and Jamaicans. Id. at 1128. Today, the Base is in every way independent of Cuba
and in no way reliant on Cuba's cooperation.
The United States' refusal to limit its dominion and control to the use permitted
by the Lease and continuing Treaty became more pronounced in the 1990's, when
President Clinton used the Base as a detention facility for approximately 50,000
Haitian and Cuban refugees intercepted at sea trying to reach the United States for
refuge. 20 See Laura Bonilla, Afghan War Prisoners in Guantanamo, AGENCE
FRANCE-PRESSE, Dec. 29, 2001, available at 2001 WL 25095452. In 1999, President
Clinton again proposed using the Base in a manner not authorized by the terms of the
lease-this time to house 20,000 refugees from Kosovo. See Philip Shenon, U.S.
Chooses Guantanamo Bay Base in Cuba for Refugee Site, N.Y. TIMES, Apr. 7, 1999,
at A13. Although, in the end, this plan was not implemented, the earlier actions only
foreshadowed the 2002 arrival of over 600 individuals alleged to be members of Al-
Queda or the Taliban, who were transported to Guantanamo by the U.S. military for
reasons wholly unrelated to the operation of a naval base and coaling station.
If "sovereignty" is "the supreme, absolute, and uncontrollable power by which
any independent state is governed," "the power to do everything in a state without
20 The U.S. Navy's official website explains:
In 1991, the naval base's mission expanded as some 34,000
Haitian refugees passed through Guantanamo Bay...In May
1994, Operation Sea Signal began and the naval base was tasked
to support Joint Task Force 160, here providing humanitarian
assistance to thousands of Haitian and Cuban migrants...Since
Sea Signal, Guantanamo Bay has retained a migrant operations
mission with a steady state migrant population of less than 30.
The base has also conducted two contingency migrant
operations: Operation Marathon in October 1996 and Present
Haven in February 1997. Both of these short-fused events
involved the interception of Chinese migrants being smuggled
into the United States.
Guantanamo Bay, A Brief History, at http://www.nsgtmo.navy.mil/Default.htm (last
visited Nov. 10, 2003).
accountability," or "freedom from external control: autonomy, independence," 21 it
would appear that there is no stronger example of the United States' exercise of
"supreme power," or the adverse nature of its occupying power, than this country's
purposeful actions contrary to the terms of the lease and over the vigorous objections
of a powerless "lessor." See also New Jersey, 1997 WL 291594, at * 30 ("The plain
and ordinary import of jurisdiction without exception is the authority of a
sovereign."). Any honest assessment of the nature of United States' authority and
control in Guantanamo today allows only one conclusion: the U.S. exercises all of
"the basic attribute[s] of full territorial sovereignty." See Dura v. Reina, 495 U.S.
21 Black's Law Dictionary defines sovereignty, in pertinent part, as:
The supreme, absolute, and uncontrollable power by which any
independent state is governed; supreme political authority; the
supreme will...The power to do everything in a state without
accountability...It is the supreme power by which any citizen is
governed and is the person or body of persons in the state to
whom there is politically no superior. By sovereignty in its
largest sense is meant supreme, absolute, uncontrollable
power...the word by itself comes nearest to being the definition
of "sovereignty" is will or volition as applied to political affairs.
BLACK'S LAW DICTIONARY1396 (emphasis added).
Similarly, Webster's Third International defines sovereignty, in relevant part,
(2)(a)(1): supreme power, esp. over a body politic: dominion,
(a) freedom from external control: autonomy, independence...
WEBSTER'S THIRD INTERNATIONAL DICTIONARY 2179 (emphasis added).
676, 685 (1990). Accordingly, we conclude that, under any reading, Johnson does not
bar this Court's jurisdiction over Gherebi's habeas petition.
4. The Guantanamo Lease and Treaty and the Panama Canal Zone Treaty
Our conclusion that habeas jurisdiction lies in this case is bolstered by a
comparison of the Guantanamo Lease and continuing Treaty and the Panama Canal
Zone Treaty. The two contemporaneously negotiated agreements are unparalleled
with respect to the nature of the cession of quintessentially sovereign powers to the
United States. Concluded the same year by the Theodore Roosevelt administration, 22
the Guantanamo and Canal Zone agreements are widely viewed as substantially
similar. See, e.g., 35 Op. Att'y Gen. 536, 540 (1929) (noting that the Canal Zone
agreement "would appear to be no less comprehensive a grant than the lease from
Cuba"). 23 Both agreements provide for the ceding of all dominion and control over
22 The Guantanamo Lease was signed by the President of Cuba on February
16, 1903 and President Theodore Roosevelt on February 23, 1903. The Canal Zone
Treaty was concluded on November 18, 1903, and was subsequently signed by
President Roosevelt and ratified by the Senate in February 1904 before being
proclaimed on February 25, 1904.
23 Like the 1903 Lease agreements and continuing Treaty governing the terms
of U.S. control over Guantanamo, supra note 9, Article II of the Convention for the
Construction of a Ship Canal (Hay-Bunau-Varilla Treaty) cedes to the U.S. without
temporal limitation all power and authority over the Zone. In the case of the Canal
Zone, the purpose was "for the construction, maintenance, operation, sanitation
and protection of said Canal." Convention for the Construction of a Ship Canal to
the territory without temporal limitation, and each limits U.S. use to a particular
Connect the Waters of the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans, Nov. 18, 1903, U.S.-
Panama, art. II, 33 Stat. 2234, T.S. 431. Article XIV provides for, inter alia, the
annual payment during the life of the Convention of two hundred and fifty
thousand dollars. Id., art. XIV. Cf. 1903 Supplemental Agreement, supra note 9,
art. I (providing for the lease payment to Cuba).
Similar to Article III of the 1903 Guantanamo Lease, Article III of the Canal
Zone Convention further provides:
The Republic of Panama grants to the United States all the
rights, power, and authority within the zone mentioned and
described in Article II of this agreement and within the limits of
all auxiliary lands and waters mentioned and described in said
Article II which the United States would possess and exercise if
it were the sovereign of the territory within which said lands and
waters are located to the entire exclusion of the exercise by the
Republic of Panama of any such rights, power, or authority.
Id., art. III. Moreover, like Article III of the 1903 Guantanamo Lease, supra note 9,
Article VII goes on to provide the U.S. with "the right to acquire by purchase or by
the exercise of the right of eminent domain, any lands, buildings, water rights or
other properties necessary and convenient for the construction , maintenance,
operation and protection of the Canal and of any works of sanitation[.]" Id., art.
Under a subsequent treaty executed in 1939 by the same President that signed
the 1934 continuing Treaty with Cuba, President Franklin Delano Roosevelt, the
U.S. agreed to additional terms that, inter alia, limited business enterprises in the
Canal Zone to those directly connected with the canal (and a limited number of
truck farmers who had established their farms prior to the treaty). General Treaty of
Friendship and Cooperation Between the United States of America and Panama,
March 2, 1939, U.S.-Panama, 53 Stat. 1807, T.S. No. 945. Cf. 1903 Supplemental
Agreement, supra note 9, art. III (limiting commercial and industrial enterprises on
the Guantanamo Base). At the same time, Article XI of the 1939 Treaty preserved
the respective rights and obligations of the parties under the original 1903
agreement including, in the case of the U.S., all the rights that ordinarily pertain to
sovereignty. Cf. Treaty Defining Relations with Cuba, supra note 9, art. III
(continuing the 1903 lease agreements governing the Guantanamo Base).
purpose. Both afford the U.S. the right of eminent domain and the right to purchase
real property. Both provide for yearly payments to the ceding nation as specified in
the agreements. Only a voluntary act on the part of the United States could, given the
terms of the two agreements, result in the restoration of the territory to the ceding
Under the terms of the Panama Convention, in the eyes of our government of
the time, "the sovereignty of the Canal Zone [wa]s not an open or doubtful question."
26 Op. Att'y Gen. 376, 376 (Sept. 7, 1907). It passed to the United States. As the
Attorney General opined:
Article 3 of the treaty transfers to the United States, not the
sovereignty by that term, but "all the rights, power, and authority"
within the Zone that it would have if it were sovereign, "to the
entire exclusion of the exercise by the Republic of Panama of any
such sovereign rights, power or authority...The omission to use
words expressly passing sovereignty was dictated by reasons of
public policy, I assume; but whatever the reason the treaty gives
the substance of sovereignty, and instead of containing a mere
declaration transferring the sovereignty, descends to the
particulars "all the rights, power, and authority" that belong to
sovereignty, and negatives any such "sovereign rights, power, or
authority" in the former sovereign.
24 The U.S. did, in fact, return the Canal Zone to Panama in December 1999,
after years of protests by Panamanians over the unfairness of the 1903 Treaty and
its cession of Panamanian territory to the United States. See Panama Canal Treaty,
Sept. 7, 1977, U.S.-Panama, 33 U.S.T. 47 (establishing the basis for the 1999 re-
Id. at 377-78 (Sept. 7, 1907) (emphasis added). Similarly, the Guantanamo Lease
and continuing Treaty transferred all of the power and authority that together
constitute "sovereignty," and therefore transferred sovereignty itself. See 25 Op.
Att'y Gen 441, 444 (1905) (stating that the "Canal Zone is now within the sovereign
jurisdiction of the United States") (emphasis added); 26 Op. Att'y Gen. 113, 116
(Jan. 30, 1907) ("Unquestionably [Articles II and II] of the treaty imposed upon the
United States the obligations as well as the powers of a sovereign within the territory
described[.]") (emphasis added); 27 Op. Att'y Gen. 19, 21 (July 24, 1908) (referring
to the U.S. as "succeed[ing] to the sovereignty of the territory" in the Canal Zone)
(emphasis added); 41 Op. Att'y Gen. 44, 49-50 (1916) ("[T[he treaty itself...is the
patent...by which the United States acquired its sovereignty and property rights in the
Canal Zone") (emphasis added). 25
25 The government places much reliance on comments volunteered in the
Court's opinion in Vermilya-Brown v. Connell, 335 U.S. 377 (1948), a case in
which the Court held that the Fair Labor Standards Act applies to work performed
on territory in Bermuda leased for use as a military base for a finite term of 99
years. See Agreement and Exchanges of Notes Between the United States of
America and Great Britain Respecting Leased Naval and Air Bases, Mar. 27, 1941,
U.S.-Great Britain, 55 Stat. 1560, E.A.S. No. 235. In Vermilya-Brown, after
accepting, for purposes of the opinion, the Secretary of State's view that the U.S.
did not obtain sovereignty over the territory in Bermuda, the Court likened the
Bermuda lease to the agreements entered into with Cuba and Panama. The Court in
Vermilya-Brown had no occasion to rule on the legal status of either the Cuban or
Panamanian agreements, and its comments regarding their similarity to the Bermuda
Pursuant to this 1903 Convention, the United States created a complete system
of courts for the Canal Zone, see Egle v. Egle, 715 F.2d 999, 1011 n. 15 (5th Cir.
1983), including a U.S. District Court for the District of the Canal Zone, a legislative
court which exercised both federal and local jurisdiction over citizens and foreign
nationals alike, see FED. R. CRIM. PROC. 54 (Advisory Note to Subdivision (a)(1), 9
(citing 48 U.S.C. former §§ 1344, 1345)), and issued final decisions reviewable by
the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals. See 28 U.S.C.A. § 1294. Both the Canal Zone
district court and the Fifth Circuit had jurisdiction to hear the habeas petitions of
detainees in the Zone. See Voloshin v. Ridenour, 299 F. 134 (5th Cir. 1924)
(reviewing three habeas petitions against a U.S. Marshal for the Canal Zone). This
jurisdictional regime continued in existence until October 1979, when, "by the
Panama Canal Treaty, the United States relinquished sovereignty over the Canal
Zone." Egle, 715 F.2d at 1010 (emphasis added). See supra note 24.
lease were not material to its discussion. The Court was construing the term
"territory or possession of the United States" as used in the Act, and afforded it a
broad sweep covering territory over which the U.S. exercised sovereign jurisdiction
as well as territory over which it did not. Its holding was that the FLSA applied in
Bermuda, as it did in Guantanamo and the Canal Zone. Viewed in this light, we do
not believe that the Court would consider its observations regarding the similarity
of the various agreements to constitute a determination of a fundamental issue of
law dispositive of important constitutional rights. Nor do we believe that it would
expect the lower courts to treat them as such.
Information about the practical implementation of the jurisdictional regime that
exists in Guantanamo is comparatively sparse. But see supra note 13. As we have
explained in Section II(A)(1), however, pursuant to Article IV of the 1903
Supplemental Agreement, the United States exercises exclusive jurisdiction over
citizens and aliens alike who commit crimes on the Base. Such persons are subject to
trial for their offenses in United States courts. 26 Under the Agreement and
continuing Treaty, Cuba is required to turn over to the U.S. authorities any persons,
including Cubans, who commit an offense at Guantanamo. See supra note 9.
That, in the case of the Canal Zone, the U.S. established a court physically
located in the territory whereas in the case of Guantanamo it used the services of U.S.
courts located on the mainland is of no legal significance. What is critical is that in
both instances, the United States exercised criminal jurisdiction over the territory and
the persons there present, and that U.S. criminal statutes applied to aliens and U.S.
citizens alike. In such circumstances, it is difficult to understand why persons who
are subject to criminal prosecution in the United States for acts committed at
26 Crimes on the base involving military personnel are typically handled by a
U.S. Navy-Marine Corps Court. See, e.g., U.S. v. Elmore, 56 MJ 533 (2001) (Court
of Criminal Appeals); U.S. v. Bobroff, 23 MJ 872 (1987) (Court of Military
Review). Base commanders are required to hold for civil authorities any person not
subject to the Uniform Code of Military Justice who is suspected of criminal
activity. See Rogers, 388 F. Supp. at 301 (discussing Navy Regulations (1973,
Guantanamo should not have the right to seek a writ of habeas corpus for an alleged
wrong committed against them at that location-including the act of unlawful
detention. Indeed, Article IV of the Supplemental Agreement would appear to be
dispositive of the jurisdictional question before us.
In sum, the similarity between the Guantanamo and Canal Zone
agreements-two sets of documents unique in the nature of their cession of exclusive
dominion and control to the United States-provides additional support for our
conclusion that jurisdiction lies over Gherebi's claim. The fact the Canal Zone
district court and the Fifth Circuit entertained individual claims both constitutional
and non-constitutional until Panama re-assumed sovereign control, and that U.S.
courts have exercised criminal, if not civil, jurisdiction over actions occurring at
Guantanamo, simply provides one further compelling reason why we are unwilling
to close the doors of the United States courts to Gherebi's habeas claim.
5. Limited Nature of the Question Presented
We wish to emphasize that the case before this Court does not require us to
consider a habeas petition challenging the decisions of a military tribunal-a case that
might raise different issues. Unlike the petitioners in Johnson, and even in
Yamashita and Quirin, Gherebi has not been subjected to a military trial. Nor has
the government employed the other time-tested alternatives for dealing with the
circumstances of war: it has neither treated Gherebi as a prisoner of war (and has in
fact declared that he is not entitled to the rights of the Geneva Conventions, see
supra note 7), nor has it sought to prosecute him under special procedures designed
to safeguard national security. See U.S. v. Bin Laden, 2001 WL 66393 (S.D.N.Y.
Jan. 25, 2001) (limiting access to confidential information). Instead, the government
is following an unprecedented alternative 27 : under the government's theory, it is free
to imprison Gherebi indefinitely along with hundreds of other citizens of foreign
countries, friendly nations among them, and to do with Gherebi and these detainees
as it will, when it pleases, without any compliance with any rule of law of any kind,
without permitting him to consult counsel, and without acknowledging any judicial
forum in which its actions may be challenged. Indeed, at oral argument, the
government advised us that its position would be the same even if the claims were
that it was engaging in acts of torture or that it was summarily executing the
detainees. To our knowledge, prior to the current detention of prisoners at
Guantanamo, the U.S. government has never before asserted such a grave and
27 See, e.g., American College of Trial Lawyers, REPORT ON MILITARY
COMMISSIONS FOR THE TRIAL OF TERRORISTS 8 (Mar. 2003)("[T]he placement of the
detainees at Guantanamo, w[as] carefully designed to evade judicial scrutiny and to
test the limits of the President's constitutional authority.").
startling proposition. Accordingly, we view Guantanamo as unique not only
because the United States' territorial relationship with the Base is without parallel
today, but also because it is the first time that the government has announced such
an extraordinary set of principles-a position so extreme that it raises the gravest
concerns under both American and international law.
In sum, we hold that neither Johnson v. Eisentrager nor any other legal
precedent precludes our assertion of jurisdiction over Gherebi's habeas petition.
Although we agree with the government that the legal status of Guantanamo
constitutes the dispositive factor in our jurisdictional inquiry, we do not find that
Johnson requires sovereignty rather than simply the existence of territorial
jurisdiction, which unquestionably exists here. Alternatively, we conclude that both
the Lease and continuing Treaty as well as the practical reality of the U.S.'s exercise
of unrestricted dominion and control over the Base compel the conclusion that, for
the purposes of habeas jurisdiction, Guantanamo is sovereign U.S. territory.
B. The Jurisdiction of the U.S. District Court for the Central District of
Having determined that Johnson and other legal precedent do not act as a
bar to the jurisdiction of Article III courts, we turn now to the question of whether
the District Court for the Central District of California has personal jurisdiction over
a proper respondent in this case. The habeas corpus statute, 28 U.S.C. § 2241(a),
permits the writ to be granted by district courts "within their respective
jurisdictions." The writ
...does not act upon the prisoner who seeks relief, but upon the person
who holds him in what is alleged to be unlawful custody....Read
literally, the language of § 2241(a) requires nothing more than that
the court issuing the writ have jurisdiction over the custodian. 28
28 Gherebi names Secretary Rumsfeld, as well as President Bush and other
military and civilian officials, as respondents. The government asserts that the
proper respondents in the instant case are at the Pentagon, and therefore that the
only court that has territorial jurisdiction over the appropriate custodians is the U.S.
District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia. The government has not,
however, moved to dismiss the petition against respondents other than Secretary
Rumsfeld. Nor do they contend that the appropriate respondent is the "immediate
custodian" rather than the "ultimate custodian." See, e.g., Sanders v. Bennett, 148
F.2d 19, 20 (D.C. Cir. 1945); Monk v. Sec'y of the Navy, 793 F.2d 364 (D.C. Cir.
We agree that the proper custodian is Secretary Rumsfeld. See, e.g.,
Armentero v. INS, 340 F.3d 1058, 1063 (9th Cir. 2003) (holding that the "most
appropriate respondent to petitions brought by immigration detainees is the
individual in charge of the national government agency under whose auspices the
alien is detained"). While it was the President who directed the Department of
Defense to conduct the military operations in Afghanistan, it is the Defense
Department rather than the White House that will decide (at least in form) whether
Gherebi is released from Guantanamo. It is also the Defense Department that
maintains the Base and has custody over all prisoners. Because the appropriate
individual respondent is the head of the national government agency under whose
auspices the alien is detained, Donald Rumsfeld is the appropriate respondent in
this proceeding. We also note that this Court's power to direct the President to
perform an official act raises constitutional questions easily avoided by naming the
Braden v. 30th Judicial Circuit Court of Kentucky, 410 U.S.. 484, 495 (emphasis
added). A court has personal jurisdiction in a habeas case "so long as the custodian
can be reached by service of process." Id.
The government argues, based on Schlanger v. Seamans, 401 U.S. 487, 489
(1971), that the custodian must be physically present so that he may be served in the
Central District. In Schlanger, the Court concluded that "the absence of the [proper]
custodian is fatal to the jurisdiction of the Arizona District Court." Id. at
491(emphasis added). However, one year later, in Strait v. Laird, 406 U.S. 341, 345
(1972), the Court distinguished Schlanger, see id. at 344-45, and held that habeas
jurisdiction is proper even though the custodian is not physically present in the
relevant district, as long as the custodian is within reach of the court's process. The
That such "presence" may suffice for personal jurisdiction is
well settled, McGee v. Int'l Life Ins. Co., 355 U.S. 220; Int'l
Shoe Co. v. Washington, 326 U.S. 310, and the concept is
also not a novel one as regards to habeas corpus
jurisdiction. In Ex Parte Endo, 323 U.S. 283, we said that
habeas corpus may issue "if a respondent who has custody
Secretary alone. See Franklin v. Massachusetts, 505 U.S. 788 (1992). Accordingly,
we conduct our analysis as if the Secretary were the single named respondent in this
of the prisoner is within reach of the court's process...."
Strait's commanding officer is "present" in California
through his contacts in that State; he is therefore "within
reach" of the federal court in which Strait filed his petition.
See Donigian v. Laird, 308 F.Supp. 449, 453; cf. United
States ex. rel. Armstrong v. Wheeler, D.C., 321 F.Supp.
Id. at 345 n.2 (emphasis added). By invoking International Shoe, and speaking in
terms of "contacts" and the "reach of the court's process," the Court in Strait
imported the standard doctrine of personal jurisdiction into the analysis of jurisdiction
pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 2241. See also id. at 349 (Rehnquist, J., dissenting) (noting
that the majority opinion in Strait held that "the type of contacts that have been found
to support state jurisdiction over nonresidents under cases like [International Shoe]
would also suffice for habeas jurisdiction").
Having established that Secretary Rumsfeld need not be physically present in
order for the Central District to exercise jurisdiction, the next question is whether the
Secretary has the requisite "minimum contacts" to satisfy the forum state's long-arm
statute, 29 which extends jurisdiction to the limits of due process. See CAL. CODE OF
CIV. PRO. 410.10. Constitutional due process concerns are satisfied when a
nonresident defendant has "certain minimum contacts with the forum such that the
29 For an analysis of personal jurisdiction under California law, see generally
Doe v. Unocal Corp., 248 F.3d 915 (9th Cir. 2001), reh'g en banc granted and
opinion vacated by Doe v. Unocal Corp., 2003 WL 359787 (9th Cir. 2003).
maintenance of the suit does not offend traditional conceptions of fair play and
substantial justice." Int'l Shoe Co. v. Washington, 326 U.S. 310, 316 (1945). Where a
defendant's activities in the forum are substantial, continuous, and systematic, general
jurisdiction is available, and the foreign defendant is subject to suit even on matters
unrelated to his or her contacts with the forum. Perkins v. Benguet Consolidated
Mining Co., 342 U.S. 437 (1952). Here, the activities of Secretary Rumsfeld and the
department he heads are substantial, continuous, and systematic throughout the state
of California: California has the largest number of military facilities in the nation
(sixty-one), including major military installations, Department of Defense laboratories,
and testing facilities. See California's Technology, Trade, and Commerce Agency,
Business & Community Resources, Military Base Revitalization,
http://www.commerce.ca.gov/state/ttca (last visited Nov. 10, 2003). Many of these
activities are carried out in the Central District of California. Accordingly, we
conclude that Secretary Rumsfeld has the requisite "minimum contacts" to satisfy
California's long-arm statute, and we hold that the United States District Court for the
Central District has jurisdiction over Gherebi's nominal custodian, Secretary
Rumsfeld, for purposes of § 2241(a).
Although we hold that Johnson does not bar habeas jurisdiction and further
determine that the Central District may exercise personal jurisdiction over the
Secretary, the question of venue presents a final, additional issue. The government
has suggested that we might transfer the petition to the Eastern District of Virginia. 30
The applicable rule is that "for the convenience of parties and witnesses, in the interest
of justice, a district court may transfer any civil action to any other district or division
where it might have been brought." 28 U.S.C. § 1404(a); cf. 28 U.S.C. § 1406(a)
(providing for transfer where venue is wrongly laid). 31 In making the decision to
a court must balance the preference accorded the plaintiff's choice
of forum with the burden of litigating in an inconvenient forum.
The defendant must make a strong showing of inconvenience to
warrant upsetting the plaintiff's choice of forum. As part of this
inquiry, the court should consider private and public interest
30 In fact, it was only in a footnote that the government urged that the case be
transferred, and then only for want of jurisdiction under 28 U.S.C. § 1631. While
we reject that argument on the basis of our holding that jurisdiction lies in the
Central District, the question of transfer pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1404(a) presents a
distinct issue. Neither party has addressed this question, nor has the government
filed a motion to transfer in connection therewith. Thus, it is only because of the
unique circumstances surrounding this appeal that we mention the issue, although
we do not resolve it here.
31 Under 28 U.S.C. § 1406(a), if a case is filed in the wrong district, a district
court "shall dismiss, or if it be in the interest of justice, transfer such case to any
district or division in which it could have been brought." See King v. Russell, 963
F.2d 1301, 1303-04 (9th Cir. 1992).
factors affecting the convenience of the forum. Private factors
include the "relative ease of access to sources of proof; availability
of compulsory process for attendance of unwilling; and the cost of
obtaining attendance of willing witnesses; possibility of view of
premises, if view would be appropriate to the action; and all other
practical problems that make the trial of a case easy, expeditious
and inexpensive." Gulf Oil Corp. v. Gilbert, 330 U.S. 501, 508
(1947). Public factors include "the administrative difficulties
flowing from court congestion; the 'local interest in having
localized controversies decided at home;' the interest in having the
trial of a diversity case in a forum that is at home with the law that
must govern the action; the avoidance of unnecessary problems in
conflict of laws, or in the application of foreign law and the
unfairness of burdening citizens in an unrelated forum with jury
duty." Piper Aircraft, 454 U.S. at 241 n.6 (quoting Gulf Oil Corp.,
330 U.S. at 509).
Decker Coal Co. v. Commonwealth Edison Co., 805 F.2d 834, 843 (9th Cir. 1986).
Some of the above considerations are clearly not applicable to habeas cases.
Moreover, as a general matter, the district court is not required to "determine the best
venue," Bates v. C & S Adjusters, Inc., 980 F.2d 865, 867 (2d Cir. 1992) (discussing
the general venue statute, 28 U.S.C. § 1391), and transfer under § 1404(a) "should not
be freely granted." In re Nine Mile, Ltd., 692 F.2d 56, 61 (8th Cir. 1982). Section
1404(a) provides for transfer to a more convenient forum, "not to a forum likely to
prove equally convenient or inconvenient," Van Dusen v. Barrack. 376 U.S. 612, 646
(1964), and a "transfer should not be granted if the effect is simply to shift the
inconvenience to the party resisting the transfer." Id. Further, there is a strong
"presumption in favor of plaintiff's choice of forums." Gulf Oil, 330 U.S. at 508.
This presumption must be taken into account when deciding whether the convenience
of the parties-rather than the convenience of respondent-requires a transfer.
In the typical habeas case, problems of venue are simplified by the fact that "the
person with the immediate control over the prisoner has the literal power to 'produce'
the body and is generally located in the same place as the petitioner." Henderson, 157
F.3d at 152. Here, however, the question is significantly more complicated. The place
where the prisoner is being held and in which the immediate custodian is located is
not a suitable or even possible venue; instead, a next-friend habeas movant, resident
of California, is petitioning on behalf of a prisoner held outside of the physical
confines of the United States. Also, in this case, factors such as the convenience of
parties and witnesses and the ease of access to sources of proof cannot be weighed
with the same ease and transparency afforded by the typical habeas proceeding.
Finally, the public interest factors, which may be of critical importance here, are such
that it is not possible to evaluate them adequately until after the government has
presented its arguments in the district court.
In short, here, the question of the appropriate venue involves different
considerations than are present in the ordinary case. While respondent Rumsfeld's
presence in the Eastern District of Virginia might appear, at first blush, to warrant
transfer to that district, there may be substantial considerations that will weigh in favor
of determining that venue is proper in the Central District of California. 32 In any
event, the government has not formally moved to transfer pursuant to 28 U.S.C. §
1404(a) or put forth the appropriate evidence to support its case; 33 the parties have not
briefed this issue; and no court has had occasion to consider the relevant factors
bearing on venue such as ease of access to sources of proof and the convenience and
cost of obtaining witnesses. Finally, the public interest factors in this case may
32 For example, both the habeas movant and his counsel are located in
California, see Gulf Oil, 330 U.S. at 509 (location of movant a factor to consider);
Padilla v. Rumsfeld, 233 F. Supp.2d 564, 587 (S.D.N.Y. 2002) (location of counsel
a factor to consider), and because the Central District court is already familiar with
the case, transfer may lead to delay. CFTC v. Savage, 611 F.2d 270, 279 (9 th Cir.
1979). Further, neither of the two "particularly important" factors bearing on
convenience and venue in alien habeas cases appear to weigh in favor of transfer
in this case: on the one hand, there is a legitimate concern that transfer of
Guantanamo detainees' individual petitions to the Eastern District of Virginia could
flood the jurisdiction "beyond the capability of the district court to process in a
timely fashion," see Henderson, 157 F.3d at 127; Strait, 406 U.S. at 345;
conversely, the danger of forum-shopping may not pose a significant risk here
because traditional venue doctrine would insure that these next-friend suits are
brought in the district of residence of the habeas movant, see Henderson, 157 F.3d
at 127. See also Armentero, 340 F.3d at 1069-70.
33 The party seeking the transfer must clearly specify the essential witnesses to
be called and must make a general statement of what their testimony will cover. In
determining the convenience of the witnesses, the Court must examine the
materiality and importance of the anticipated witnesses' testimony and then
determine their accessibility and convenience to the forum. See 15 CHARLES A.
WRIGHT, ET AL., FED. PRACTICE & PROCEDURE § 3851(West 2003).
require particularly careful scrutiny once the complete record is before the district
court. All of these questions are best resolved, in the first instance, by the district
court, and we express no view on the proper outcome here. Accordingly, we remand
to the Central District to determine whether venue is proper, should the government
renew its motion in that forum.
D. The desirability of a full exploration of the jurisdictional issues by the Courts of
The dissent asserts that we should defer our decision in this case until after the
Supreme Court has decided the pending Guantanamo detainee case in which certiorari
has been granted. Al Odah v. United States, 321 F.3d 1134 (D.C. Cir. 2003), cert.
granted, 2003 WL 22070725 (Nov. 10, 2003). We strongly disagree. The Supreme
Court has always encouraged the Courts of Appeal to resolve issues properly before
them in advance of their determination by the Supreme Court, reasoning that having a
variety of considered perspectives will aid the Court's ultimate resolution of the issue
in question. See United States v. Sperry Corp., 493 U.S. 52, 66 (1989) (noting that the
Court "benefit[s] from the views of the Court[s] of Appeals"); United States v.
Mendoza, 464 U.S. 154, 160 (1984) (noting that the Court benefits when several
Courts of Appeal hear an issue prior to Supreme Court review); E. I. Du Pont de
Nemours & Co. v. Train, 430 U.S. 112, 135 (1977) (lauding the "wisdom of allowing
difficult issues to mature through full consideration by the courts of appeals" and
noting that having a variety of perspectives can "vastly simplif[y] our task"). Circuit
courts have also noted the importance of several circuits' examining important legal
questions before the Supreme Court makes a final determination. Va. Soc'y for
Human Life, Inc. v. FEC, 263 F.3d 379, 393 (4th Cir. 2001) (emphasizing that
opinions from multiple circuits helps develop "important questions of law" and that
the Supreme Court benefits from "decisions from several courts of appeals");
Atchison, T. & S.F. Ry. v. Pena, 44 F.3d 437, 447 (7th Cir. 1994) (Easterbrook, J.,
concurring) (noting that conflicting decisions "among the circuits . . . [lend] the
Supreme Court [the] benefit of additional legal views that increase the probability of a
correct disposition"). This is especially the case here, given the importance of the
issue, the dearth of considered opinions, and the conflict in views and reasoning that,
as a result of our opinion, will now be available to the Supreme Court.
We hold that the district court erred in concluding, based on Johnson v.
Eisentrager, that no district court would have jurisdiction over Gherebi's habeas
petition. We also hold that the Central District may exercise jurisdiction in this case
because the Secretary of Defense is subject to service of process under the California
long-arm statute. Finally, we remand to the district court for consideration of the
question whether transfer to a different district than the Central District of California
would be appropriate.
REVERSED AND REMANDED FOR FURTHER PROCEEDINGS
CONSISTENT WITH THIS OPINION.
Stephen Yagman, Esq., Venice, California, for Petitioner-Appellant.
Paul Clement, Department of Justice, Washington, DC, for Respondents-Appellees.
DEC 18 2003
CATHY A. CATTERSON
U.S. COURT OF APPEALS
Gherebi v. Bush, No. 03-55785
GRABER, Circuit Judge, dissenting:
With regret, I must respectfully dissent.
The second sentence of its opinion contains the key to the majority's errors
here: "The issues we are required to confront are new, important, and difficult." Maj.
op. at 2. Although the issues that we confront are important and difficult, they are not
new. Because the issues are not new, we are bound by existing Supreme Court
precedent, which the majority misreads. Because the issues are important and
difficult, the Supreme Court has decided to revisit them, and we should await the
Supreme Court's imminent decision.
1. Johnson v. Eisentrager
In Johnson v. Eisentrager, 339 U.S. 763 (1950), the Supreme Court held that an
enemy alien who was detained by the United States military overseas could not bring a
petition for habeas corpus in the courts of the United States. Our courts lack
jurisdiction in that circumstance, and the sole remedy for the enemy alien lies with the
political branches of government. 1 Id. at 779-81.
1 Two of our sister circuits have reached the identical conclusion. See Al
Odah v. United States, 321 F.3d 1134, 1143 (D.C. Cir. 2003), cert. granted, 72
U.S.L.W. 3323 (U.S. Nov. 10, 2003) (No. 03-334) ("Rasul"), and 72 U.S.L.W. 3327
(U.S. Nov. 10, 2003) (No. 03-343) ("Al Odah") (consolidated); Cuban Am. Bar
A straightforward reading of Johnson makes it clear that "sovereignty" is the
touchstone, under current law, for the exercise of federal courts' jurisdiction. As the
Supreme Court explained, the petitioners in Johnson could not bring a habeas petition
because they committed crimes, were captured, were tried, and were being detained
outside "any territory over which the United States is sovereign." Id. at 777.
The majority invents the novel proposition that, because the Supreme Court
used the phrase "territorial jurisdiction" more often than it used the term
"sovereignty," the former concept governs and the latter may be disregarded. Maj. op.
at 18-19. Counting phrases is not, in my view, a valid method of analyzing the
More telling is the way in which the Court distinguished cases in which enemy
aliens were allowed to bring habeas petitions in federal courts, cases like Yamashita v.
Styer (In re Yamashita), 327 U.S. 1 (1946). In Johnson the Court held that Yamashita
was different because, in Yamashita, the United States had "sovereignty" over the
place where the petitioner was held and, therefore, the federal courts had jurisdiction
"[b]y reason of our sovereignty." Johnson, 339 U.S. at 780. "Sovereignty" was the
only distinction on which Johnson relied. There may be, as the majority argues, other
Ass'n v. Christopher, 43 F.3d 1412, 1425 (11th Cir. 1995).
possible distinctions, but they were of no moment to the Johnson Court, whose
opinion we must construe.
In short, the holding in Johnson precludes federal courts from exercising
jurisdiction over an enemy alien who is detained-and who has always been-outside
the sovereign territory of the United States. Only the Supreme Court may modify the
"sovereignty" rule established by Johnson. See Rodriguez de Quijas v. Shearson/Am.
Express, Inc., 490 U.S. 477, 484 (1989) ("If a precedent of this Court has direct
application in a case, yet appears to rest on reasons rejected in some other line of
decisions, the Court of Appeals should follow the case which directly controls,
leaving to this Court the prerogative of overruling its own decisions."). The majority
cites no authority in which the Supreme Court has declared that Johnson is no longer
The Supreme Court has granted certiorari in a consolidated appeal that presents
an opportunity for the Court to revisit Johnson's "sovereignty" rule. See Al Odah v.
United States, 321 F.3d 1134 (D.C. Cir. 2003), supra note 1. Until the Supreme Court
informs us otherwise, however, the key inquiry remains whether the Guantanamo Bay
Naval Base ("Guantanamo") is sovereign territory of the United States.
2. The Status of Guantanamo Bay Naval Base
a. The Guantanamo Lease
(i) The Lease Recognizes the "Continuance of Ultimate
Sovereignty" by Cuba Over Guantanamo.
The majority concludes "that, at least for habeas purposes, Guantanamo is a
part of the sovereign territory of the United States." Maj. op. at 25-26. There are two
things wrong with that sentence.
First, it is unclear how a place can be, as the majority implies Guantanamo is, a
part of "the sovereign territory of the United States" for habeas purposes but not for
other purposes. The "sovereignty" that Johnson requires appears to be the ordinary
kind. Cf. Black's Law Dictionary 1402 (7th ed. 1999) (defining "sovereignty" as: "1.
Supreme dominion, authority, or rule. 2. The supreme political authority of an
independent state. 3. The state itself.").
Second, and more fundamentally, Guantanamo is the sovereign territory of
Cuba. The relevant treaty explains that "the United States recognizes the continuance
of the ultimate sovereignty of the Republic of Cuba over the above described areas of
land and water." Agreement Between the United States and Cuba for the Lease of
Lands for Coaling and Naval Stations, Feb. 16-23, 1903, U.S.-Cuba, art. III, T.S. No.
418 ("Guantanamo Lease") (emphasis added). 2
2 In addition to the Guantanamo Lease, other agreements between the United
The majority's interpretation of the Guantanamo Lease is problematic because
the majority takes the phrase "ultimate sovereignty" out of context. I already have
cited the definition of "sovereignty." The 1913 version of Webster's Revised
Unabridged Dictionary offers these definitions for "ultimate":
1. Farthest; most remote in space or time; extreme; last; final.
2. Last in a train of progression or consequences; tended toward by all
that precedes; arrived at, as the last result; final.
3. Incapable of further analysis; incapable of further division or
separation; constituent; elemental; as, an ultimate constituent of matter.
Webster's Revised Unabridged Dictionary 1560 (1913),
The majority reads the Lease's use of "ultimate" in the temporal sense ("most
remote in . . . time"). In context, however, I believe that the Lease is using "ultimate"
States and Cuba are relevant. The two governments agreed on July 2, 1903, to the
so-called "Parallel Treaty," which "conclude[d] the conditions of the lease" signed
in February 1903. Lease of Certain Areas for Naval or Coaling Stations, July 2,
1903, T.S. No. 426 ("Parallel Treaty"), pmbl. The Parallel Treaty also set additional
terms (such as the amount of annual rent) affecting the Guantanamo Lease.
Additionally, the 1934 U.S.-Cuba Treaty maintained that the "supplementary
agreement in regard to naval or coaling stations signed between the two
Governments on July 2, 1903, also shall continue in effect in the same form and on
the same conditions with respect to the naval station at Guantanamo." Treaty
Between the United States of America and Cuba Defining Their Relations, May 29,
1934, U.S.-Cuba, art. III, 48 Stat. 1682, 1683.
in the sense of "extreme," "incapable of further division or separation," or
"elemental." That is, key to understanding the phrase "ultimate sovereignty" is to
recognize the significance of the contextual term "continuance." 3
The 1913 dictionary offers these definitions for "continuance":
1. A holding on, or remaining in a particular state; permanence, as of
condition, habits, abode, etc.; perseverance; constancy; duration; stay.
2. Uninterrupted succession; continuation; constant renewell [sic];
3. A holding together; continuity. [Obs.]
4. (Law) (a) The adjournment of the proceedings in a cause from one
day, or from one stated term of a court, to another. (b) The entry of such
adjournment and the grounds thereof on the record.
3 Under Article 31.1 of the Vienna Convention, "[a] treaty shall be
interpreted in good faith in accordance with the ordinary meaning to be given to the
terms of the treaty in their context and in the light of its object and purpose."
Vienna Convention on the Law of Treaties, May 23, 1969, art. 31.1, 1155 U.N.T.S.
331 (Jan. 27, 1980) (emphasis added). Although the United States is not a signatory
to the Vienna Convention, it is the policy of the United States to apply Articles 31
and 32 as customary international law. Gonzalez v. Gutierrez, 311 F.3d 942, 949
n.15 (9th Cir. 2002).
To the extent that the Lease is better seen as a contract, similar rules require
us to give each word meaning. See Cree v. Waterbury, 78 F.3d 1400, 1405 (9th Cir.
1996) (explaining the rule of contract construction that "a court must give effect to
every word or term employed by the parties and reject none as meaningless or
surplusage in arriving at the intention of the contracting parties" (internal quotation
Id. at 313. The only definitions that make sense in the present context are the first and
second ones-the third being obsolete, and the fourth being obviously irrelevant.
Thus, the Lease's use of the word "continuance" denotes the ongoing nature of
Cuba's "ultimate sovereignty" over Guantanamo.
The majority's attempt to explain away the contextual use of the words
"continuance" and "ultimate" is unpersuasive. The majority reads the Lease to vest in
Cuba only a "contingent sovereign interest-a reversionary right that springs into
being upon a lawful termination of the U.S. reign. It is this reversionary interest that
is 'continued' even as substantive (or qualitative) sovereignty is ceded to the United
States." Maj. op. at 32.
The Lease might have created such a reversionary right (although I read it
differently). But the Lease logically could not have continued such a right, because no
such "reversionary" right existed before the Lease was signed (when Cuba
indisputably was the sole sovereign over Guantanamo).
By contrast, if "ultimate" refers not to the temporal activation of a reversionary
interest, but to ongoing elemental, indivisible sovereignty, the whole phrase-"the
continuance of the ultimate sovereignty of the Republic of Cuba"-in the
Guantanamo Lease makes sense. The Lease is discussing the continuance of the
elemental, indivisible sovereignty of Cuba with respect to Guantanamo. 4
The drafters of the Lease wanted to make clear that, although the United States
was granted powers that often run with sovereignty (e.g., "complete jurisdiction and
control"), in fact Cuba was retaining all sovereignty over Guantanamo for itself. That
is to say, Cuba retained ultimate, or elemental, or indivisible sovereignty, despite the
fact that the United States would be allowed to act, de facto, a lot like a sovereign
The majority's concerns about what the word "ultimate" could add to the
concept of "sovereignty," maj. op. at 29-31, are thus misplaced. The Lease goes to
great pains to explain that all sovereignty over Guantanamo is "unbundled" from the
rights of jurisdiction and control. Cuba keeps the former continually, while the
4 Sovereignty is not always an all-or-nothing concept. "Partial sovereignty"
and the concurrent existence of "joint sovereigns" are well-established concepts in
American law. For example, this concept of less-than-complete sovereignty is at
the heart of our federal system: the States are "sovereign" but subject to
requirements imposed by the Federal Constitution. Thus, the Supreme Court has
explained the purpose of the Eleventh Amendment as being "rooted in a recognition
that the States, although a union, maintain certain attributes of sovereignty,
including sovereign immunity." P.R. Aqueduct & Sewer Auth. v. Metcalf & Eddy,
Inc., 506 U.S. 139, 146 (1993); see also Fed. Mar. Comm'n v. S.C. State Ports
Auth., 535 U.S. 743, 765 (2002) (explaining that the central purpose of the
sovereign immunity doctrine is to "accord the States the respect owed them as joint
sovereigns" (internal quotation marks omitted)). Thus, in theory, Cuba could have
ceded some, but not all, of its sovereignty over Guantanamo to the United States.
United States enjoys the latter. The word "ultimate" serves the purpose of preventing
the United States from asserting that it has any legal sovereignty deriving from the
jurisdiction and control that it enjoys. In the absence of the word "ultimate," one
could conclude that Cuba had handed over not only the rights to jurisdiction and
control, but also the underlying sovereignty that forms the basis for the authority to
enjoy (or, as here, to transfer the right to enjoy) those rights.
The contemporaneously signed Spanish version of the Lease supports a
substantive, rather than temporal, understanding of the term "ultimate" even more
strongly than the English version. See United State v. Percheman, 32 U.S. (7 Pet.) 51,
88 (1833) ("If the English and the Spanish parts can, without violence, be made to
agree, that construction which establishes this conformity ought to prevail."). The
Spanish version of the disputed text reads: "Si bien los Estados Unidos reconocen por
su parte la continuación de la soberania definitiva de la República de Cuba."
Convenio de 16/23 de Febrero de 1903, Entre la República de Cuba y los Estados
Unidos de América para arrendar á los Estados Unidos (bajos las condiciones que
habran de convenires por los dos Gobiernos) tierras en Cuban para estaciones
carboneras y navales, Tratados, Convenios y Convenciones (Habana 1936) (emphasis
added). There is no dispute that "soberania" refers to "sovereignty" or that
"continuación" equates to the English cognate "continuation." The word "definitiva"
is the feminine form of the adjective "definitivo," which meant to a reader at the time
"[d]ícese de lo que decide, resuelve o concluye": a term used to describe that which
decides, resolves or concludes [a matter]. Diccionario de la Lengua Castellana por la
Real Academia Española 329 (Decimocuarta ed. 1914). A contemporaneous Spanish-
to-English dictionary translated "definitivo" as (not surprisingly) "definitive" or
"determinate." A New Pronouncing Dictionary of the Spanish and English Languages
209 (1908). At the time, "definitive" was understood primarily to mean
"[d]eterminate; positive; final; conclusive; unconditional; express." Webster's at 382.
Similarly, "determinate" was defined as "[h]aving defined limits; not uncertain or
arbitrary; fixed; established; definite[;] [c]onclusive; decisive; positive." Id. at 401.
Although a temporal sense could be squeezed out of those definitions, their most
natural meaning is that the issue of sovereignty was decided, resolved, or concluded
in favor of Cuba.
(ii) Other Terms of the Lease Suggest That Cuba Retains
Sovereignty Over Guantanamo.
Other provisions of the Lease demonstrate that Cuba currently enjoys
sovereignty over Guantanamo. Article III of the Lease states that Cuba consents to the
United States' exercise of jurisdiction and control over Guantanamo "during the
period of the occupation" by the United States. The 1913 Webster's dictionary defines
"occupation" (in relevant part) as "1. The act or process of occupying or taking
possession; actual possession and control; the state of being occupied; a holding or
keeping; tenure; use; as, the occupation of lands by a tenant." Webster's at 994. Thus,
the United States, as an "occupier," enjoys the status of a tenant rather than a landlord.
Indeed, it would be odd for a sovereign to be described as "occupying" its own lands;
instead, the term usually means the exercise of control by one nation over the
sovereign territory of another.
Additionally, if the United States were a true sovereign, it could permissibly do
many things at Guantanamo that it is not entitled to do. For instance, the United States
may not permissibly change the use of the land (say, by raising commercial crops); 5 if
the United States were sovereign, it could raise commercial crops. If the property is
abandoned, the lease ends automatically; 6 if the United States were sovereign, it could
allow the land to lie idle without jeopardizing its sovereignty and its concomitant right
5 Guantanamo Lease, art. II ("The grant . . . shall include the right . . . to do
any and all things necessary to fit the premises for use as coaling or naval stations
only, and for no other purpose." (emphasis added)).
6 Parallel Treaty, art. I ("The United States of America agrees and covenants
to pay to the Republic of Cuba the annual sum of two thousand dollars, in cold
coin of the United States, as long as the former shall occupy and use said areas of
land by virtue of said agreement.").
to use the property later. Cuban trade vessels must be allowed free passage; 7 if the
United States were sovereign, it could choose to refuse passage to another nation's
vessels for economic, political, or other reasons. The United States pays rent; if it
were sovereign, it would have the legal right to use the land without paying another
sovereign state annually for the privilege. The United States never has enjoyed these
rights because Cuba, as sovereign, never relinquished them.
The majority asserts that the United States has repeatedly breached the terms of
the Lease by using Guantanamo other than as a naval base and coaling station. Maj.
op. at 34. 8 The majority then reasons that sovereignty is demonstrated by the United
States' repeated violations of the Lease. Maj. op. at 34-40. That conclusion does not
The fact that Cuba lacks the political or military might necessary to hold the
United States responsible for breaching the Lease does not mean that the United States
7 Guantanamo Lease, art. II.
8 Although the United States may have violated the Lease in a number of
ways, holding prisoners at Guantanamo does not appear to be one of them. Under
the Lease, the United States is entitled to maintain a Navy base at Guantanamo.
Navy bases commonly contain brigs to hold prisoners. See, e.g., The Brig: A Two
Hundred Year Tradition, at http://www.brigpuget.navy.mil/history.htm (last visited
Dec. 11, 2003). Using the Guantanamo brig to hold prisoners thus seems at first
blush not to violate the Lease's provisions.
has not breached the Lease or that the Lease has ceased to exist. 9 The ability to violate
terms of an agreement with impunity does not render a party legally free to ignore the
agreement. It means only that the party in breach is spared the practical consequences
of its improper acts. If a celebrity tenant breaches his lease by keeping unauthorized
pets, and the landlord feels that she can do nothing about it, the tenant does not
thereby become the owner of the house. Indeed, the landlord may not even have
waived the right to enforce the no-pet term of the lease later. Rather, the tenant is in
breach of the lease but escapes the attendant consequences.
Similarly, even if the United States has violated the Lease, it simply is big
enough and strong enough that Cuba has been unable to enforce its legal entitlements.
This difference in power does not erase the United States' obligations under the Lease,
nor does it mean that Guantanamo is a part of the sovereign territory of the United
States. The Lease is actually a lease, albeit a highly unusual one with a very pushy
As is the case with most leases, the tenant has a right of quiet enjoyment during
the lease term. The owner-even though "ultimate" ownership "continues" during the
term of the lease-gives up jurisdiction and control over the property with whatever
9 The Government of Cuba apparently adheres to my view on this point.
See Maj. op. at 35 n.19.
limits are agreed by the parties to the lease. That is just what happened here. Even a
life tenancy or an option to buy does not convey fee simple ownership to the tenant.
b. The Hay-Bunau-Varilla Treaty
The majority seeks to bolster its conclusion that Guantanamo is part of the
sovereign territory of the United States by referring to the 1904 Hay-Bunau-Varilla
Treaty ("Panama Canal Treaty"), which authorized construction of the Panama Canal.
Maj. op. at 40-45. An examination of the Panama Canal Treaty actually weakens the
majority's case, however.
The Attorney General's Opinion explained that, in the view of the executive
Article 3 of the treaty transfers to the United States, not the
sovereignty by that term, but "all the rights, power and authority" within
the Zone that it would have if it were sovereign . . . .
The omission to use words expressly passing sovereignty was
dictated by reasons of public policy, I assume; but whatever the reason
the treaty gives the substance of sovereignty, and instead of containing a
mere declaration transferring the sovereignty, descends to the particulars
"all the rights, power, and authority" that belong to sovereignty, and
negatives any such "sovereign rights, power, or authority" in the former
26 Op. Att'y Gen. 376, 377 (1907). Article III of the Panama Canal Treaty, on which
the Attorney General's Opinion relied, reads in its entirety:
The Republic of Panama grants to the United States all the rights,
power and authority within the zone mentioned and described in Article
II of this agreement and within the limits of all auxiliary lands and waters
mentioned and described in said Article II which the United States would
possess and exercise if it were the sovereign of the territory within which
said lands and waters are located to the entire exclusion of the exercise
by the Republic of Panama of any such sovereign rights, power or
Convention for the Construction of a Ship Canal to Connect the Waters of the Atlantic
and Pacific Oceans, Nov. 18, 1903, U.S.-Panama, art. III, 33 Stat. 2234 (emphasis
The text of Article III of the Panama Canal Treaty differs from the provisions
of the Guantanamo Lease. The Guantanamo Lease never says that the United States is
granted "all" of the "rights, power and authority" that it would enjoy "if it were the
sovereign." To the contrary, the Guantanamo Lease mentions the concept of
sovereignty in connection with Cuba, not in connection with the United States. The
Guantanamo Lease provides that "the United States recognizes the continuance of the
ultimate sovereignty of the Republic of Cuba over the above described areas of land
and water." Guantanamo Lease, art. III (emphasis added). There is no similar
recognition in the Panama Canal Treaty.
The Panama Canal Treaty and the Guantanamo Lease share many similarities,
as the majority points out. But the only question here is whether the United States was
granted sovereignty, and the texts of the documents differ dramatically on this point.
The Panama Canal Treaty granted "all the rights, power and authority" of a
"sovereign" to the United States, with no express reservation of sovereignty to
Panama. The Guantanamo Lease is just the opposite; it grants to the United States the
"exercise" of "complete jurisdiction and control over and within" a designated area,
while reserving "the continuance of the ultimate sovereignty" to Cuba. This
distinction in the texts of the two documents must be deemed intentional and must be
given effect. The Panama Canal Treaty passed sovereignty to the United States, while
the Guantanamo Lease did not.
A comparison of the provisions of the two documents with respect to eminent
domain, likewise, underscores the differing treatment of sovereignty. In the
Guantanamo Lease, Cuba gives the United States the power of eminent domain; that
is, this is a lease with an option to buy. Guantanamo Lease, art. III. If the United
States were sovereign, this provision would be redundant because, by definition, a
sovereign could exercise the power of eminent domain.
An examination of the Panama Canal Treaty illustrates this truism. In the
Panama Canal Treaty, Panama gave the United States a similar power of eminent
domain, or a lease with an option to buy, only with respect to areas that were not
given to the United States as its sovereign territory-the cities and harbors of Panama
and Colon. Panama Canal Treaty, arts. II and VII. In the areas as to which Panama
ceded sovereignty, such a clause was unnecessary because the power of eminent
domain is an attribute of sovereignty. But, in both the Guantanamo Lease and the
Panama Canal Treaty, in areas as to which Cuba and Panama (respectively) retained
sovereignty the option to buy had to be granted specifically as a contractual term.
3. Separation of Powers
One additional point bears mention. The executive branch has taken the
position that "the United States has no claim of sovereignty over the leased areas" of
Guantanamo. Brief for Appellees George W. Bush et al., filed June 18, 2003, at 17.
Rather, "Guantanamo Bay Naval Base is located within the sovereign territory of the
Republic of Cuba." Id.
The Supreme Court has recently reminded us that the Constitution allocates the
foreign relations power to the federal executive in recognition of the "concern for
uniformity in this country's dealings with foreign nations." Am. Ins. Ass'n v.
Garamendi, 123 S. Ct. 2374, 2386 (2003) (internal quotation marks omitted).
"'Although the source of the President's power to act in foreign affairs does not enjoy
any textual detail, the historical gloss on the "executive Power" vested in Article II of
the Constitution has recognized the President's "vast share of responsibility for the
conduct of our foreign relations."'" Id. (quoting Youngstown Sheet & Tube Co. v.
Sawyer, 343 U.S. 579, 610-11 (1952) (Frankfurter, J., concurring); see also, e.g., First
Nat'l City Bank v. Banco Nacional de Cuba, 406 U.S. 759, 767 (1972) (explaining that
the President has "the lead role . . . in foreign policy"); Chi. & S. Air Lines, Inc. v.
Waterman S.S. Corp., 333 U.S. 103, 109 (1948) (noting the President's role as the
"Nation's organ in foreign affairs").
The majority today declares that the United States has sovereignty over territory
of a foreign state, over the objections of the executive branch. Indeed, both parties to
the Guantanamo Lease and its associated treaties-Cuba and the United States
(through the executive branch)-maintain that Guantanamo is part of Cuba.
Nevertheless, the majority announces that the United States has annexed Guantanamo.
In so doing, the majority "compromise[s] the very capacity of the President to speak
for the Nation with one voice in dealing with other governments." Crosby v. Nat'l
Foreign Trade Council, 530 U.S. 363, 381 (2000). It has created an inconsistency in
our nation's foreign policy, with one branch (which has primary responsibility in this
field) declaring that the United States is not sovereign over Guantanamo, and a second
branch (which is not politically accountable) declaring that it is. The complications
that flow from such a situation are as obvious now as they were to the framers, who
chose to avoid them by granting to the President the lead authority in foreign affairs.
Perhaps in some circumstance, a federal court would be obliged in the
execution of its constitutional duties to declare, over the objections of the executive
branch, that the United States is sovereign over some territory. However, in view of
the constitutional allocation of powers, and the need for the United States to speak
with one voice in dealing with foreign nations, federal courts should tread lightly.
The question whether the United States has sovereignty over Guantanamo is
undeniably close. That being so, the issue is particularly sensitive and the declarations
by the executive branch regarding foreign policy should carry significant weight. The
majority's failure to credit the executive branch's position on sovereignty over
Guantanamo is an unwise and unwarranted extension of judicial authority in an arena
belonging primarily to the executive branch.
As noted, the Supreme Court has recently granted certiorari in a consolidated
appeal that provides the Court with an opportunity to consider the question about
which the majority and I disagree. The orders granting certiorari were limited to this
question: "Whether United States courts lack jurisdiction to consider challenges to the
legality of the detention of foreign nationals captured abroad in connection with
hostilities and incarcerated at the Guantanamo Bay Naval Base, Cuba." I believe that
we should wait to hear the Supreme Court's answer to that question, because the
views that we express here will become obsolete as soon as the Supreme Court
renders its decision.
The issues that Mr. Gherebi raises are significant and troubling. Under existing
Supreme Court precedent, however, I do not believe that we have jurisdiction to
reach them. 10 There are good arguments that can (and undoubtedly will) be made in
support of the proposition that federal courts should have the power to hear habeas
petitions of prisoners held by officers of the United States government, whatever the
prisoners' nationality and whatever their situs of imprisonment. If the Supreme Court
is persuaded by those arguments to modify or overrule Johnson, I look forward to
reaching the merits of this case. But until the Supreme Court speaks, nothing that the
majority or I say can have any legal effect. Our decision is, in a practical sense,
advisory. I therefore believe that we should defer submission until the Supreme
Court decides Rasul and Al Odah.
It is of grave concern when federal courts, traditionally the guardians of our
Constitution and our liberties, turn away claims that government officials have
violated an individual's rights. I am reluctant, as was the district court, to hold that
the court lacked jurisdiction over Mr. Gherebi's petition for habeas corpus, and my
10 For the same reason, I would not reach the issue of venue.
view should not be mistaken for approval either of Mr. Gherebi's detention or of the
precedent that prevents us from scrutinizing it. But I am equally reluctant to distort
treaties, leases, and Supreme Court cases to reach a more desirable outcome. Change
in the law, if any there will be, must come from the Supreme Court. Failing that, a
remedy, if any there will be, must come from Congress and the executive branch.
Accordingly, and regrettably, I dissent.