Justia Military Law Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in US Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit
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Sergeant First Class McKinney served honorably in the Army for more than 20 years before retiring in 2007. Months later, he suffered a stroke at age 46. A VA doctor opined that of McKinney’s reported exposures during service, only an October 2005 blast from a roadside bomb in Iraq was consistent with causing a TBI. The VA affirmed that McKinney had a total disability that was service-connected and permanent, which entitled him to lifetime benefits. Several years after his retirement, he applied to the Army for a Purple Heart on the ground that he suffered a TBI in the 2005 explosion. McKinney was not hit with debris during the blast and did not receive medical treatment afterward. The Army denied him a Purple Heart because it found the evidence insufficient to establish that this particular attack caused McKinney to suffer injuries that would qualify for the award.The D.C. Circuit affirmed the denial while acknowledging McKinney’s years of service and the injuries he sustained during that service. With respect to the award of a Purple Heart, however, the Army’s decision is reviewed under a deferential standard. The Army did not act arbitrarily or capriciously when it denied McKinney the Purple Heart. View "McKinney v. Wormuth" on Justia Law

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A military commission was convened to try al-Tamir, apprehended in Turkey in 2006 and held at Guantanamo Bay for seven years without charges, for war crimes. Captain Waits presided over al-Tamir’s commission for two and a half years. A DOJ prosecutor was the first attorney to speak on the record. Weeks later, Waits applied to be a DOJ immigration judge. In his applications, he identified the al-Tamir commission. He received no interviews. In 2017, Waits was hired by the Department of Defense's Navy Office of the Judge Advocate General Criminal Law Division, after again mentioning his role in the commission.In 2019, the D.C. Circuit held that a military judge’s application for an immigration judge position created an appearance of bias requiring recusal, Waits disclosed his employment applications to al-Tamir and the commission. Rubin and Libretto later served on al-Tamir’s commission, Blackwood was a civilian advisor for all three judges and applied for outside employment while assisting Rubin. Libretto denied al-Tamir's motions to dismiss based on Waits’s and Blackwood’s job applications and to disqualify Libretto based on Blackwood’s continued assistance. Libretto declared that he would reconsider any of Waits’s decisions that al-Tamir identifies. The Court of Military Commission Review upheld that decision. The D.C. Circuit denied mandamus relief. The government’s offer affords al-Tamir an “adequate means” to attain the relief he seeks; Blackwood’s job search did not “clear[ly] and indisputabl[y]” disqualify the judges he served. View "In re: al-Tamir" on Justia Law

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Petitioner, a defense attorney with no client, petitioned to reverse a procedural ruling excluding the public from a classified hearing in an appeal filed by other attorneys who, like plaintiff, have no client. Because most proceedings for Guantanamo Bay detainees are open to the public, the attorney's desire to watch the hearing would not normally have been a problem. However, because this particular hearing concerned classified information, the military judge closed it.The DC Circuit noted that the attorney may or may not have prudential standing, but the court need not address the issue because the court can dismiss the case based on lack of subject matter jurisdiction. In this case, the attorney ultimately appeals the military judge's decision to close the hearing. The court explained that the attorney does not appeal a conviction, an actual final judgment, but rather a decision. Finally, the court rejected the attorney's argument under the collateral order doctrine. View "Sundel v. United States" on Justia Law

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Al Bahlul, a Yemeni national, was Osama bin Laden’s head of propaganda at the time of the September 11 attacks. After he was captured in Pakistan, Al Bahlul was convicted by a military commission in Guantanamo Bay of conspiracy to commit war crimes, providing material support for terrorism, and soliciting others to commit war crimes. The D.C. Circuit vacated two of his three convictions on ex post facto grounds. On remand, the Court of Military Commission Review, without remanding to the military commission, reaffirmed Al Bahlul's life sentence for the conspiracy conviction.The D.C. Circuit reversed and remanded. The CMCR failed to apply the correct harmless error standard, In reevaluating Al Bahlul’s sentence, the CMCR should have asked whether it was beyond a reasonable doubt that the military commission would have imposed the same sentence for conspiracy alone. The court rejected Al Bahlul’s remaining arguments. The appointment of the Convening Authority was lawful; there is no reason to unsettle Al Bahlul I’s ex post facto ruling, and the court lacked jurisdiction in an appeal from the CMCR to entertain challenges to the conditions of Al Bahlul’s ongoing confinement. View "Al Bahlul v. United States" on Justia Law

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After appellant asked the Board to expunge or amend Army investigators' determinations recorded in his military files, the Board denied his application and the district court sustained its decision.The DC Circuit reversed, holding that a basic mistake of fact rendered the Board's decision arbitrary and capricious. In this case, the allegedly false statement was the expiration date of appellant's current military orders, which he wrote in a blank on the 2007-2008 school year registration form to re-enroll his three children at the Fort Buchanan base school. Army investigators opened a fraud investigation on the premise that appellant's assignment was for two years, rather than three. However, it is undisputed that the assignment was for three years and the investigation did not lead to any criminal prosecution or military discipline. View "Code v. McCarthy" on Justia Law

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The DC Circuit denied petitions for writs of mandamus seeking vacatur of all orders issued by the former presiding military judge because of the appearance of partiality. Petitioners are being tried before a military tribunal for their alleged roles in the September 11th terrorist attacks.The court held that it was neither clear nor indisputable that the military judge should have recused himself. The court explained that the military judge's career and relationships do not constitute reasonable bases for the extraordinary remedy of mandamus. View "In re: Mustafa Al Hawsawi" on Justia Law

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Petitioner, a Guantanamo detainee, sought a writ of mandamus asking the court to prevent the government from proceeding with destruction of a particular detention center ("Site A"). The DC Circuit denied relief, finding that the government has produced digital and photographic representations of Site A and that petitioner cannot show, as he must, that it is clear and indisputable that those representations are so insufficient as to warrant the extraordinary remedy of mandamus. After reviewing the classified record, the court held that the government took steps fully consistent with the district court's order. View "In re: Ammar Al-Baluchi" on Justia Law

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Jackson served in the Marine Corps, 1977-1991. Almost 30 years after his honorable discharge, Jackson filed a pro se complaint alleging that toward the end of his military career, his supervising officers discriminated against him because he is a black male, in violation of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, 42 U.S.C. 2000e. The district court inferred additional claims under the Administrative Procedure Act (APA), 5 U.S.C. 706(2)(A), and the Military Pay Act, 37 U.S.C. 204 but ultimately dismissed all of Jackson’s claims. The D.C. Circuit affirmed. The court noted the unanimous rulings of other sister circuits, concluding that Title VII does not apply to uniformed members of the armed forces. Jackson’s APA claim was untimely and, although the limitations period is no longer considered jurisdictional, the facts alleged were insufficient to apply equitable tolling. Jackson was able to manage his affairs and comprehend his rights; he alleged that at the time of the alleged discrimination, he knew that he “had been subjected to wrongdoing and strongly desired justice.” The court concluded that it lacked jurisdiction to review the dismissal of Jackson’s Military Pay Act claim; the Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit has exclusive jurisdiction of such claims. View "Jackson v. Modly" on Justia Law

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These petitions concern the conduct of a military judge, Colonel Vance Spath, who presided over a current Guantanamo Bay detainee, Abd Al-Rahim Hussein Muhammed Al-Nashiri, who faces capital charges before a military commission. After receiving a job offer but before retiring from the military, Spath found himself locked in a dispute with Al-Nashiri's defense lawyers, three of whom sought to leave the case.The DC Circuit granted Al-Nashiri's petition for a writ of mandamus and held that Spath's job application to the Justice Department created a disqualifying appearance of partiality. In this case, the average, informed observer would consider Spath to have presided over a case in which his potential employer (the Attorney General) appeared. The court vacated all orders issued by Spath after he applied for the job, and dismissed counsels' petition as moot. View "In re: Abd Al-Rahim Hussein Muhammed Al-Nashiri" on Justia Law

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Plaintiff appealed the district court's dismissal of his complaint, denial of his motion for leave to amend the complaint, and rejection of his motion to transfer the case to the United States Court of Federal Claims. After plaintiff served in the Marine Corps, he received an other-than-honorable discharge stemming from conduct. Plaintiff sought judicial review of the Correction Board's denial of his request to upgrade his discharge on the basis that his misconduct resulted from his mental and physical disabilities.The DC Circuit dismissed the action for want of jurisdiction because the Federal Circuit has exclusive rights over appeals from orders granting or denying the transfer of an action to the Court of Federal Claims. The court held that the district court lacked subject matter jurisdiction over the complaint, and it correctly determined that amendment to cure the jurisdictional defect would have been futile. Accordingly, the court affirmed in part and dismissed in part. View "Palacios v. Spencer" on Justia Law