Yesterday, the Obama administration filed a brief with Judge Bates of the DC Circuit in a pending habeas case. In that brief, the government uses the following opaque language to no longer use the term "enemy combatant" while still treating those held like…well, like enemy combatants with spiffy new name tags on their orange jumpsuits:
The President has the authority to detain persons that the President determines planned, authorized, committed, or aided the terrorist attacks that occurred on September 11, 2001, and persons who harbored those responsible for those attacks. The President also has the authority to detain persons who were part of, or substantially supported, Taliban or al-Qaida forces or associated forces that are engaged in hostilities against the United States or its coalition partners, including any person who has committed a belligerent act, or has directly supported hostilities, in aid of such enemy armed forces.
I got a press release shortly after the brief was filed from the Obama administration trumpeting their changed vocabulary. (I’ll append that at the bottom of this post. Suffice it to say that I found it lacking.)
And yet still, after the press release — which clearly went out to every media outlet on the planet given that Legal Times, NYTimes,, Washington Independent, and the WaPo have stories on this as well — no one bought the language morph. I think the Center for Constitutional rights sums up my feeling on this:
While the new government has abandoned the term “Enemy Combatant,” 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 – with one change, the addition of the word “substantially” before the word “supported.” This is really a case of old wine in new bottles.
Whether in interpreting the laws of war or the AUMF, the government continues to confuse the right to use military force with the right to detain terror suspects indefinitely. It is still unlawful to hold people indefinitely without charge. The men who have been held for more than seven years by our government must be charged or released.
As does Marcy. If all we’re getting is same song, second verse, nicer window-dressing? Then I’m beyond pissed.
Worse, if they think that dressing things up in a fancier wrapper is actually fooling anyone, that’s just plain insulting. Scott Horton adds:
The Justice Department has two transparent objectives in this case. One is to avoid further disclosure of the embarrassing facts surrounding the seizure and detention of the plaintiffs. This was one of dozens of cases in which American officials were hoodwinked by petty Afghan warlords out for a bounty payment, turning over prisoners who had no ostensible connection to the Taliban or Al Qaeda. The second is to keep the illegal practices in Gitmo—including violations of the Geneva Conventions, detailed in their complaint, and torture—under wraps. In embracing the idol of immunity, however, the Obama team is squarely repudiating its obligations under international law.
Either you respect the rule of law and our treaty obligations and long-held ethical obligations, or you are worse than squirrelly — you are seriously Bush league.
For more on the still open Gitmo and its current conditions, see CCR here.
DEPARTMENT OF JUSTICE WITHDRAWS “ENEMY COMBATANT” DEFINITION
FOR GUANTANAMO DETAINEES
In a filing today with the federal District Court for the District of Columbia, the Department of Justice submitted a new standard for the government’s authority to hold detainees at the Guantanamo Bay Detention Facility. The definition does not rely on the President’s authority as Commander-in-Chief independent of Congress’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 Department also submitted a declaration by Attorney General Eric Holder stating that, under executive orders issued by President Obama, the government is undertaking an interagency review of detention policy for individuals captured in armed conflicts or counterterrorism operations as well as a review of the status of each detainee held at Guantanamo. The outcome of those reviews may lead to further refinements of the government’s position as it develops a comprehensive policy.
“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,” said Attorney General Holder. “The change we’ve made today meets each of those standards and will make our nation stronger.”
In its filing today, the government bases its authority to hold detainees at Guantanamo on the Authorization for the Use of Military Force, which Congress passed in September 2001, and which authorized the use of force against nations, organizations, or persons the president determines planned, authorized, committed, or aided the September 11 attacks, or harbored such organizations or persons. The government’s new standard relies on the international laws of war to inform the scope of the president’s authority under this statute, and makes clear that the government does not claim authority to hold persons based on insignificant or insubstantial support of al Qaeda or the Taliban.
The brief was filed in habeas litigation brought by numerous detainees at Guantanamo who are challenging their detention under the Supreme Court’s decision last summer in Boumediene v. Bush.