As a result of the United States Supreme Court’s 2008 decision in Boumediene v. Bush, which gave Guantanamo detainees a constitutional right to challenge their confinement, Mohammad Al-Adahi, a detainee at Guantanamo Bay Naval Base, petitioned for a writ of habeas corpus. In this case, the D.C. Circuit reversed the district court’s decision to grant Mohammad Al-Adahi habeas corpus relief. The D.C. Circuit determined that, even assuming that the government was required to show by a preponderance of the evidence that Al-Adahi was part of al-Qaeda, (1) the district court erred in its treatment of the evidence by looking at each piece separately and not in the aggregate; and (2) based upon the evidence viewed en total, Al-Adahi, at the very least, was more likely than not a part of al-Qaeda.
Al-Adahi filed a habeas petition in federal district court. The district court granted Al-Adahi’s petition. The government appealed the district court’s decision, and the D.C. Circuit reversed.
In the summer of 2001, Mohammed Al-Adahi, a Yemeni security guard and former member of the Yemeni army, took a six-month leave of absence from his job and moved to Afghanistan. Al-Adahi obtained a passport for this trip through assistance from Riyadh Abd Al-Aziz Almujahid, who was his brother-in-law and a known affiliate of al-Qaeda.
Once in Afghanistan, Al-Adahi stayed at Riyadh’s Kandahar home. While staying in Kandahar, Al-Adahi met personally with Usama Bin Laden twice. From Kandahar, Al-Adahi moved to the Al Nebras guesthouse, which served as a staging area for al-Qaeda recruits en route to the Al Farouq training camp. While here, Al-Adahi was treated like a recruit. For example, the staff at the guesthouse helped him and other recruits prepare for their training at Al Farouq.
From the guesthouse, Al-Adahi was bused to al-Qaeda’s Al Farouq training camp. While he was at Al Farouq, Al-Adahi received training in rocket-propelled grenades, other weapons, and basic physical fitness, as well as some classroom instruction. Al-Adahi had deep knowledge of the operations at Al Farouq, based on his interaction with camp leaders, his understanding of the camp’s training regimen and layout, and his familiarity with the training routine of other recruits. Al-Adahi stayed at Al Farouq for seven to ten days. The reasons for his departure are unclear.
Al-Adahi then went to Kabul, Khost, and back to Kandahar. Back in Kandahar, Al-Adahi spent a few days in a hospital recuperating from injuries. It is not clear how Al-Adahi sustained these injuries. Once Al-Adahi left the hospital, he crossed the Pakistani border on a bus carrying wounded Arab and Pakistani fighters. Al-Adahi referred to these men as Taliban soldiers.
In late 2001, Al-Adahi was captured in Pakistan by the Pakistani authorities. In 2004, a U.S. Combatant Status Review Tribunal (CSRT) determined, by a preponderance of the evidence, that he was part of al-Qaida. Al-Adahi filed a habeas corpus petition in 2005 arguing that he was not a part of al-Qaeda, and therefore, could not lawfully be detained under the Authorization for Use of Military Force (AUMF). The district court determined there was no reliable evidence in the record to show that Al-Adahi was a member of al-Qaeda and thus ruled that he should be released. The government appealed, and Al-Adahi cross-appealed.
The D.C. Circuit held that under the AUMF, the government can hold at Guantanamo and elsewhere those individuals who are “part of” al-Qaeda, the Taliban, or associated forces, and determined that Al-Adahi fell within this description. In explaining the basis for its decision, the D.C. Circuit provided insight into how it would handle detainees’ habeas petitions in the future.
The AUMF allows 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 persons.” Pub. L. No. 107-40 § 2(a) (LINK). This statutory authorization has been held to include the power to capture and detain those described within it.
First, the D.C. Circuit asked what type of factual showing the government would have to provide in order to show that a detainee’s involvement in al-Qaeda, the Taliban, or associated forces rose to the level required for detention pursuant the AUMF. According to the D.C. Circuit, that standard had yet to be determined. The court did not undertake to fully decide that issue. However, the court stated that it would follow Al-Bihani v. Obama, which held that the government does not have to prove the legality of detention “beyond a reasonable doubt” or by “clear and convincing evidence.” Rather, the Al-Bihani court determined that the preponderance-of-the-evidence standard was constitutionally sufficient. Here, since there was no opposition by either party to following this standard and no alternative had been suggested, the D.C. Circuit chose to apply the preponderance-of-the-evidence standard to the case at hand.
Next, the D.C. Circuit asked how the district court should have evaluated the evidence the government had presented against Al-Adahi. The D.C. Circuit determined that the district court erred in its piecemeal evaluation of the evidence. The district court had divided the government’s evidence into different categories: Al-Adahi’s trip to Afghanistan; his meetings with bin Laden; his stay in an al-Qaeda guesthouse; his military training at Al Farouq; and his other, later activities in Afghanistan. The district court evaluated each category of evidence as constituting a separate and unique event. Having divided the evidence as such, the district court determined that each piece of evidence on its own was not enough to prove Al-Adahi’s involvement in al-Qaeda. The D.C. Circuit found this approach impermissible, choosing, instead, to apply a conditional probability analysis. Such an analysis focuses on the fact that some events are dependent on the others, meaning that the occurrence of one event makes the occurrence of others more or less likely. Based upon this approach, the D.C. Circuit determined that the evidence presented against Al-Adahi should be considered in the aggregate, rather than being viewed as separate and independent phenomena. The D.C. Circuit then evaluated the evidence in the aggregate, and found that it was clear that Al-Adahi was, at the very least, more likely than not a part of al-Qaeda. This finding, the D.C. Circuit said, satisfies the preponderance of evidence standard and thus was justifiably detained under the AUMF. Consequently, the D.C. Circuit reversed and remanded the case with instructions to the district court to deny Al-Adahi’s petition for a writ of habeas corpus.