Consider this excerpt from the brief just filed by the United States in a Guantánamo detainee's habeas corpus case:
Petitioner cites the panel majority’s statement that the 'premise that the war powers granted by the [Authorization for Use of Military Force (2001)] and other statutes are limited by the international laws of war * * * is mistaken.' The Government agrees that this broad statement does not properly reflect the state of the law. The Government interprets the detention authority permitted under the AUMF, as informed by the laws of war. That interpretation is consistent with the Supreme Court’s decision in Hamdi v. Rumsfeld (2006), and with longstanding Supreme Court precedent that statutes should be construed as consistent with applicable international law.Pp. 1-2 (citations switched to hyperlinks).
So said the United States' response to the petition for rehearing of the ruling of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit (courthouse above right) in Al Bihani v. Obama (2010). (Prior IntLawGrrls post) Indeed, in the body of its argument (pp. 6-9), the government repeated and expanded upon its nod to international law. In so doing, it cited case law familiar to those of us who labor in this field. For example:
► Murray v. Schooner Charming Betsy (1804), a precedent from the Court of Chief Justice John Marshall, was cited for the proposition that "an act of Congress ought never to be construed to violate the law of nations, if any other possible construction remains."
► United States v. Yunis (D.C. Cir. 1991), a judgment (by a panel included then-Judge Ruth Bader Ginsburg, along with then-Chief Judge/now IntLawGrrls guest/alumna Patricia M. Wald and the opinion's author, Abner Mikva) arising out of a 1985 cross-border, terrorism-linked hijacking. Yunis was cited for the proposition that "courts will not blind themselves to potential violations of international law where legislative intent is ambiguous."
Notably, the U.S. position in this brief stands at odds with that taken in the Military Commissions Act of 2006; in section 5(a), Congress forbade anyone to "invoke the Geneva Conventions or any protocols thereto in any habeas corpus or other civil action ... as a source of rights in any court of the United States or its States or territories."
At both junctures of its Al-Bihani brief, however, United States argued that international law offers no reason to grant the detainee's petition for rehearing. Here's page 2:
[N]one of this changes the outcome ... The panel majority specifically addressed and properly rejected petitioner’s argument under international law. That unanimous ruling is correct and does not warrant rehearing or rehearing en banc.What the government giveth ....