It was announced by the Justice Department that they would be dropping the term enemy combatant, and while this is a significant symbolic change, for now the administration has kept much of the Bush Administration’s vague terminology.
“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.”
The idea that the Obama administration will only detain those who gave” substantial support” to the Taliban, or al-Qaeda in participating in the 9/11 attacks is a big departure from the Bush administration’s claim that they can detain anyone with or without reason. The question is who defines what is and isn’t substantial support? The term enemy combatant may be gone, but the idea that the American government can detain whoever they want within their rules remains the same.
I am willing to cut the administration some slack and give them some time to flesh out a policy, but I have studied enough administrations in action to know that it would be stunning if the Obama administration actually came up with clearly defined terminology and guidelines, mostly because the military likes to have flexibility in the rules, but in order for this to be a true departure from the past, Obama needs to clearly spell out how his policy will be different from the Bush years.
Dropping the term enemy combatant appears to be a move designed to send a message both at home and abroad that there is a new sheriff in town. It is a great political move that reinforces his message of change, but dropping old politically toxic terms is not the kind of change that people want to see. Simply undoing what George W. Bush did is not enough in this case.
Obama needs to abandon the concept of detentions all together. Those detained must be charged and tried. A detention should be temporary until a person is charged. If the Obama administration wishes to detain people, it should be done in line with the Geneva Conventions, and those taken into custody should be P.O.W.s. Anything less would be more of the same.