The United States Supreme Court has held that a prisoner's presence within the territorial jurisdiction of the district court is not an invariable prerequisite to the exercise of district court jurisdiction under the federal habeas statute. Rather, because the writ of habeas corpus does not act upon the prisoner who seeks relief, but upon the person who holds him in what is alleged to be unlawful custody, a district court acts within its respective jurisdiction within the meaning of 28 U.S.C.S. § 2241 as long as the custodian can be reached by service of process.
The U.S. military had held the aliens, along with approximately 640 other non-Americans captured abroad, at the Naval Base at Guantanamo Bay. The court distinguished them from the Eisentrager detainees in important respects: They were not nationals of countries at war with the United States, and they denied that they have engaged in or plotted acts of aggression against the United States; they had never been afforded access to any tribunal, much less charged with and convicted of wrongdoing; and for more than two years they had been imprisoned in territory over which the United States exercised exclusive jurisdiction and control. The aliens filed various actions challenging the legality of their detention at the Guantanamo Bay Naval Base. They invoked the court's jurisdiction under 28 U.S.C.S. §§ 1331 and 1350 and asserted various causes of action including federal habeas corpus. The district court dismissed their causes of action for want of jurisdiction. On appeal, the dismissal was affirmed by the United States Court of Appeals.
Did the district court have jurisdiction to hear the case?
The case was remanded for the district court to consider in the first instance the merits of the aliens' claims. The court held that 28 U.S.C.S. § 2241 conferred on the district court jurisdiction to hear the habeas corpus challenges. Furthermore, the fact that the aliens were being held in military custody was immaterial to the question of the district court's jurisdiction over their nonhabeas statutory claims. 28 U.S.C.S. § 1350 explicitly conferred the privilege of suing for an actionable tort on aliens.