Mar 13, 2009 7 Comments ›› Pat Dollard
Obama Administration Abandons Use of Term ‘Enemy Combatant’
By Del Quentin Wilber and Carrie Johnson
The Obama administration today dropped the term “enemy combatant” to describe those held at the U.S. military prison at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, and increased the legal threshold needed to detain them.
The Justice Department disclosed the move in a court filing in response to a federal judge’s order seeking a definition of the term “enemy combatant.”
Judges have said the definition will play a key role in determining whether the government has justified the confinement of scores of detainees who are challenging their status in U.S. District Court.
In a break with the Bush administration’s policies, the Justice Department said it would only seek to detain those who “substantially supported” the Taliban, al-Qaeda or associated forces or participated in the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks. The Bush administration had argued it could detain those who provided support to those groups and others “engaged in hostilities” against the United States and its allies.
The Justice Department did not define “substantially supported” in the court papers but said the term would not include those who “provide unwitting or insignificant support” to terror groups. “The particular facts and circumstances justifying detention will vary from case to case,” they wrote.
Though dropping the term “enemy combatant” will have little practical effect, it is a symbolic move by the Obama administration to break with the past.
“As we work towards developing a new policy to govern detainees, it is essential that we operate in a manner that strengthens our national security, is consistent with our values and is governed by law,” Attorney General Eric Holder said in a statement.
HOWEVER … Rich Lowry sort of calls “bull” on the Obama slight-of-hand:
Obamaâ€™s M.O.: Denounce Bush, pretend to reverse Bush, then follow Bush
Obama has executed versions of his three-step on terrorist surveillance and the Iraq War, and perhaps on Gitmo and interrogation (although the final disposition of those two is not clear). On congressional earmarks, Obamaâ€™s three-step was so obvious and clumsy he had to repeat Step 2 â€” making another promise to fight earmarks even as he accepted 8,500 of them in the omnibus spending bill.
Usually, Obama puts the emphasis on the second of his steps, to augment the difference with Bush. But in defending his economic policy recently after a reporter asked if it constituted socialism, Obama inadvertently highlighted the third step. He sought cover for his approach by pointing out that Bush had bailed out the banks and spent irresponsibly. Of course, that sounds awfully familiar.
No ‘enemy combatants’
By ALEXANDER BURNS AND JOSH GERSTEIN
The Department of Justice has released a statement announcing the administration will no longer define Guantanamo detainees …
… as â€œenemy combatants.â€
From the release: “In a filing today with the federal District Court for the District of Columbia, the Department of Justice submitted a new standard for the governmentâ€™s authority to hold detainees at the Guantanamo Bay Detention Facility. The definition does not rely on the Presidentâ€™s authority as Commander-in-Chief independent of Congressâ€™s specific authorization. It draws on the international laws of war to inform the statutory authority conferred by Congress. It provides that individuals who supported al Qaeda or the Taliban are detainable only if the support was substantial. And it does not employ the phrase ‘enemy combatant.’”
The full statement is available here, but itâ€™s already drawing some criticism. The Center for Constitutional Rights has released a response calling the DOJâ€™s decision â€œold wine in new bottles.â€
CCR: â€œWhile the new government has abandoned the term â€˜Enemy Combatant,â€™ it appears on first reading that whatever they call those they claim the right to detain, they have adopted almost the same standard the Bush administration used to detain people without charge â€“ with one change, the addition of the word â€˜substantiallyâ€™ before the word â€˜supported.â€™ This is really a case of old wine in new bottles.â€