Obama Admin. To End Use Of Term 'Enemy Combatant'

The Obama administration said Friday that it is abandoning one of President George W. Bush's key phrases in the war on terrorism: enemy combatant. But that won't change much for the detainees at the U.S. naval base in Cuba — Obama still asserts the military's authority to hold them. Human rights attorneys said they were disappointed that Obama didn't take a new stance.

The Justice Department said in legal filings that it will no longer use the term "enemy combatants' to justify holding prisoners at Guantanamo Bay.

"This is really a case of old wine in new bottles," the Center for Constitutional Rights, which has been fighting the detainees' detention, said in a statement. "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."

In another court filing Thursday criticized by human rights advocates, the Obama administration tried to protect top Bush administration military officials from lawsuits brought by prisoners who say they were tortured while being held at Guantanamo Bay.

The Obama administration's position on use of the phrase "enemy combatants" came in response to a deadline by U.S. District Judge John Bates, who is overseeing lawsuits of detainees challenging their detention. Bates asked the administration to give its definition of whom the United States may hold as an "enemy combatant."

The filing back's Bush's stance on the authority to hold detainees, even if they were not captured on the battlefield in the course of hostilities. In their lawsuits, detainees have argued that only those who directly participated in hostilities should be held.

"The argument should be rejected," the Justice Department said in its filing. "Law-of-war principles do not limit the United States' detention authority to this limited category of individuals. A contrary conclusion would improperly reward an enemy that violates the laws of war by operating as a loose network and camouflaging its forces as civilians."

Attorney General Eric Holder also submitted a declaration to the court outlining President Barack Obama's efforts to close the Guantanamo Bay detention facility within a year and determine where to place the 240 people held there. He said there could be "further refinements" to the administration's position as that process goes on.

"Promptly determining the appropriate disposition of those detained at Guantanamo Bay is a high priority for the president," Holder wrote.

Elisa Massimino, CEO and Executive Director of Human Rights First, urged the administration to use that opening. "We certainly hope it will use that opportunity to narrow the authority and make a clean break from the policies of the past," she said.

There are some changes in legal principles in Obama's stance. The Justice Department said authority to hold detainees comes from Congress and the international laws of war, not from the president's own wartime power as Bush had argued.

The Justice Department says prisoners can only be detained if their support for al-Qaida, the Taliban or "associated forces" was "substantial." But it does not define the terms and says "circumstances justifying detention will vary from case to case."

Retired Army Lt. Col. Stephen Abraham, a former Guantanamo official who has since become critical of the legal process, said it's a change in nothing but semantics.

"There's absolutely no change in the definition," Abraham said in a telephone interview. "To say this is a kinder more benevolent sense of justice is absolutely false. ... I think the only thing they've done is try to separate themselves from the energy of the debate" by eliminating Bush's phrasing.

On the topic of former administration officials, the Justice Department argued in a filing with the U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia that holding military officials liable for their treatment of prisoners could cause them to make future decisions based on fear of litigation rather than appropriate military policy.

The suit before the appeals court was brought by four British citizens — Shafiq Rasul, Asif Iqbal, Rhuhel Ahmed and Jamal Al-Harith — who were sent back to Great Britain in 2004. The defendants in the case include former Secretary of Defense Donald H. Rumsfeld and retired Gen. Richard Myers, former chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.

The men say they were beaten, shackled in painful stress positions and threatened by dogs during their time at the U.S. naval base in Cuba. They also say they were harassed while practicing their religion, including forced shaving of their beards, banning or interrupting their prayers, denying them copies of the Quran and prayer mats and throwing a copy of the Quran in a toilet.

They contend in their lawsuit that the treatment violated the Religious Freedom Restoration Act, which provides that the "government shall not substantially burden a person's exercise of religion."

The appeals court ruled against them early last year, saying because the men were foreigners held outside the United States, they do not fall within the definition of a "person" protected by the act.

But later in the year, the Supreme Court ruled that Guantanamo detainees have some rights under the Constitution. So the Supreme Court instructed the appeals court to reconsider the lawsuit in light of their decision.

Eric Lewis, attorney for the four, said Friday that military officials should be subject to liability when they order torture.

"The upshot of the Justice Department's position is that there is no right of detainees not to be tortured and that officials who order torture should be protected," Lewis said.

Last month in another court filing, the Justice Department sided with the Bush White House by arguing that detainees at Bagram Air Field in Afghanistan have no constitutional rights.

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  • by feedmesushi Location: Goldsboro on Mar 17, 2009 at 08:05 PM
    I guess we no longer have any enemies and the War on Terror doesn't exist. That means Pelosi can quit using the AF as her taxi service to California. She should be safe travelling commercial.
  • by ace Location: plymouth on Mar 16, 2009 at 01:21 PM
    I don't care what you call them, just keep them in a place where they cannot hurt anyone else. To help matter even more, feed them pork three time a day.
  • by Anonymous on Mar 15, 2009 at 06:49 AM
    2012 and it will all be over
  • by Anonymous on Mar 14, 2009 at 07:25 PM
    New term: "Gentlemen of War."...Geez
  • by Cactus Location: Strabane on Mar 14, 2009 at 06:05 PM
    In this age of "PC" we would not want to hurt the feeling of those that wish to blow us to hell, now would we? Bless their hearts.
  • by Ron Location: Merritt, NC on Mar 14, 2009 at 05:22 PM
    Next, the idiot(Obama) will be giving them all full military retirement! When are all you foolish sheep who elected him going to wake up and lobby to impeach the socialist before it is too late for this great country?!!
  • by Albert Location: NC on Mar 14, 2009 at 05:20 PM
    Obama is goin to skip the Gridiron Club Dinner.? The White House offered no explanation, beyond the timing of spring break at Sidwell Friends, which first daughters Malia and Sasha attend. Of course, skipping the Gridiron is already sparking the inevitable questions: Does Obama's version of change in Washington mean not taking part in some of its oldest rituals? And if the president doesn't show up at a dinner whose guest of honor is usually,and has always been the president, what happens to the dinner?
  • by Mario Location: Greenville,NC on Mar 14, 2009 at 05:03 PM
    Do not get a war wound. Obama wants you to pay for your own health care Military. By Adam Levine Pentagon Supervising Producer WASHINGTON (CNN) -- Veterans groups are warning President Barack Obama against going ahead with a possible administration move to charge veterans' private health care for service-related injuries. Veterans groups say it's "wholly unacceptable" to charge their private insurance for service injuries. In a letter sent by 11 of the most prominent veterans organizations, the groups warned that the idea "is wholly unacceptable and a total abrogation of our government's moral and legal responsibility to the men and women who have sacrificed so much
  • by Friend? Location: Kinston on Mar 14, 2009 at 03:52 PM
    I guess Osama Bin Laden is our "new" friend too. If they captured him today, Obama would put him in public housing, give him foodstamps and the finest medical care American tax dollars can buy. You can believe he would have more rights than citizens here. We're headed for big trouble folks!
  • by Obama Snake Oil Co Location: Washington on Mar 14, 2009 at 02:23 PM
    Majeeda, regardless, he claims he is christian so he is an infadel. The murderers in Gitmo should die a cowards death for the cowardly thing they did. There is no dignity in doing a cowardly deed. Not even in the muslum teaching. It is not Jehad it is the act of a coward destin to go to the most unholy place. Obama is simply a pawn to the liberals in this country with good ennunciation. Yes he lies and will continue to lie, what did some of you expect? Change? Well, that just got him elected, change is what your grandkids will have left after he spends their future. Sorry, I told you and warned you. Next time learn about who you "vote" for.
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