Obama abandons term 'enemy combatant'

The Obama administration said yesterday that it is abandoning one of President George W. Bush's key phrases in his war on terror: enemy combatant.

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



That will not change much for the detainees at the jail in the US naval base in Cuba; Obama still asserts the military's authority to hold them. Human rights attorneys said they were disappointed that Obama did not take a new position on that as well.

"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 on 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 US District Judge John Bates, who is overseeing lawsuits of detainees challenging their detention. Bates had asked the administration to give its definition of whom the United States may hold as an "enemy combatant."



The filing back's Bush's position on the authority to hold detainees, even if they were not captured on the battlefield during 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 still 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, chief executive 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 the Obama position. 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 is 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 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 prayer mats and copies of the Quran 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.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
News
Bill Gates, founder of Microsoft and co-chair of the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation
businessUber, Snapchat and Facebook founders among those on the 2015 Forbes Billionaire List
News
news... and what your reaction to the creatures above says about you
News
Jihadi John
newsMonikers like 'Jihadi John' make the grim sound glamorous
News
Homer’s equation, in an episode in 1998, comes close to the truth, as revealed 14 years later
science
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA special investigation by Andy McSmith
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Ashdown Group: Finance Manager - Covent Garden, central London - £45k - £55k

£45000 - £55000 per annum + 30 days holiday: Ashdown Group: Finance Manager - ...

Ashdown Group: Systems Administrator - Lancashire - £30,000

£28000 - £30000 per annum: Ashdown Group: 3rd Line Support Engineer / Network ...

Recruitment Genius: Graduate Web Developer

£26000 - £33000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Web Developer is required to ...

Ashdown Group: PeopleSoft Developer - London - £45k

£45000 per annum: Ashdown Group: PeopleSoft Application Support & Development ...

Day In a Page

The difference between America and Israel? There isn’t one

The difference between America and Israel? There isn’t one

Netanyahu knows he can get away with anything in America, says Robert Fisk
Families clubbing together to build their own affordable accommodation

Do It Yourself approach to securing a new house

Community land trusts marking a new trend for taking the initiative away from developers
Head of WWF UK: We didn’t send Cameron to the Arctic to see green ideas freeze

David Nussbaum: We didn’t send Cameron to the Arctic to see green ideas freeze

The head of WWF UK remains sanguine despite the Government’s failure to live up to its pledges on the environment
Author Kazuo Ishiguro on being inspired by shoot-outs and samurai

Author Kazuo Ishiguro on being inspired by shoot-outs and samurai

Set in a mythologised 5th-century Britain, ‘The Buried Giant’ is a strange beast
With money, corruption and drugs, this monk fears Buddhism in Thailand is a ‘poisoned fruit’

Money, corruption and drugs

The monk who fears Buddhism in Thailand is a ‘poisoned fruit’
America's first slavery museum established at Django Unchained plantation - 150 years after slavery outlawed

150 years after it was outlawed...

... America's first slavery museum is established in Louisiana
Kelly Clarkson: How I snubbed Simon Cowell and become a Grammy-winning superstar

Kelly Clarkson: How I snubbed Simon Cowell and become a Grammy-winning superstar

The first 'American Idol' winner on how she manages to remain her own woman – Jane Austen fascination and all
Tony Oursler on exploring our uneasy relationship with technology with his new show

You won't believe your eyes

Tony Oursler's new show explores our uneasy relationship with technology. He's one of a growing number of artists with that preoccupation
Ian Herbert: Peter Moores must go. He should never have been brought back to fail again

Moores must go. He should never have been brought back to fail again

The England coach leaves players to find solutions - which makes you wonder where he adds value, says Ian Herbert
War with Isis: Fears that the looming battle for Mosul will unleash 'a million refugees'

The battle for Mosul will unleash 'a million refugees'

Aid agencies prepare for vast exodus following planned Iraqi offensive against the Isis-held city, reports Patrick Cockburn
Yvette Cooper: We can't lose the election. There's too much on the line

Yvette Cooper: We can't lose the election. There's too much on the line

The shadow Home Secretary on fighting radical Islam, protecting children, and why anyone in Labour who's thinking beyond May must 'sort themselves out'
A bad week for the Greens: Leader Natalie Bennett's 'car crash' radio interview is followed by Brighton council's failure to set a budget due to infighting

It's not easy being Green

After a bad week in which its leader had a public meltdown and its only city council couldn't agree on a budget vote, what next for the alternative party? It's over to Caroline Lucas to find out
Gorillas nearly missed: BBC producers didn't want to broadcast Sir David Attenborough's famed Rwandan encounter

Gorillas nearly missed

BBC producers didn't want to broadcast Sir David Attenborough's famed Rwandan encounter
Downton Abbey effect sees impoverished Italian nobles inspired to open their doors to paying guests for up to €650 a night

The Downton Abbey effect

Impoverished Italian nobles are opening their doors to paying guests, inspired by the TV drama
China's wild panda numbers have increased by 17% since 2003, new census reveals

China's wild panda numbers on the up

New census reveals 17% since 2003