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Sunday, March 15, 2009

Rebranding The War On Terror, Obama-Style

Remember how Obama said he would change the Bush administration policy on enemy combatants, Gitmo and the rest? Well, this administration has quietly announced those changes -- They are no longer using the term "enemy combatants" but they are keeping the rest of the policy. From the Wall Street Journal:
WASHINGTON -- The Obama administration said it is dropping use of the term "enemy combatant" for suspected terrorist detainees held by the U.S. at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, while slightly modifying the legal standard used to justify their continued imprisonment.

The steps are meant to distance the new administration from controversial policies of its predecessor, though they reserve some of the broad detention powers that President George W. Bush exercised -- and that President Barack Obama criticized during last year's campaign.

The change was announced in a Justice Department filing Friday in federal court in the District of Columbia. It states that under the government's new standard, terror suspects can be detained if they "substantially supported Taliban or al-Qaida forces or associated forces that are engaged in hostilities against the United States or its coalition partners." The Bush administration previously argued for detaining those who "directly supported" al Qaeda or the Taliban, a broader standard that is slightly easier to meet.
Now I'm no legal expert, but "substantially supported" sounds broader to me than "directly supported". The legal experts quoted by the Journal see it the same way:
"The Obama administration is trying simultaneously to distance itself from the Bush administration's legal positions while preserving flexibility," said Matthew Waxman, a Columbia University law professor and former detainee-affairs official in the Bush administration.

But legal tussles are likely to continue between the government and lawyers representing detainees, who have argued that military detention be limited to those who engaged in combat. Some civil libertarians said they could hardly tell how the Obama standard differs from old policy.

Jonathan Hafetz, an American Civil Liberties Union attorney representing Ali al-Marri, a Qatar-born U.S. resident recently transferred from military to civilian custody, said the administration's filing "contains similarly vague and open-ended language that appears to license dragnet detention power. Civilians suspected of terrorism should not be subject to military justice."

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