US Guantanamo inmates no more ‘enemy combatants’

WASHINGTON, (Reuters) – The Obama administration  stopped calling Guantanamo inmates “enemy combatants” yesterday  and incorporated international law as its basis for holding the  prisoners while it works to close the facility.

The U.S. Justice Department filed court papers outlining a  further legal and linguistic shift from the anti-terrorism  policies of Republican President George W. Bush, which drew  worldwide condemnation as violations of human rights and  international law.
“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,” U.S. Attorney General Eric  Holder said in a statement.
Some human rights advocates said the shift by the new  Democratic president did not go far enough in dealing with  hundreds of suspected Islamist militants held, most for years  without trial, at a U.S. naval base in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.
“The government may have eliminated the term enemy  combatant but it is still claiming the authority to detain  people far beyond the traditional norms of humanitarian law,”  said attorney Devon Chaffee of the group Human Rights First.
The term “enemy combatant” was adopted by Bush after the  Sept. 11 attacks in 2001 to refer to prisoners held under  military orders he issued to launch the war on terrorism. The  wording became emblematic of his policies, along with razor  wire and orange jumpsuits.

The policies were subject to numerous legal battles and  Supreme Court rulings that rebuked Bush’s administration.
The filing yesterday, in the cases of some 200 Guantanamo  inmates seeking a court review of their detention, explains the  standards of President Barack Obama’s administration for  holding terrorism suspects without court review.

It said those at Guantanamo will no longer be held on the  exclusive basis of the president’s authority as commander in  chief.
Bush, who sought to expand presidential powers during his  eight years in office, had asserted his war powers were enough  legal reason for holding prisoners. Bush officials also said  they were not legally subject to the Geneva Conventions on  prisoner treatment — a view the Supreme Court rejected.

The legal structure for holding the Guantanamo prisoners  will now be based on laws passed by Congress and, by extension,  international law including the Geneva conventions, the Justice  Department said.

In addition, it said only those who provided “substantial”  support to al Qaeda, the Taliban or similar groups — or who  were “part” of those groups — would be considered candidates  for detention.

It cited Obama’s project to review the entire detention  policy, as part of a plan to close the Guantanamo prison, and  said further refinements of the standards were possible.

The Obama administration has said some of the Guantanamo  detainees, now numbering about 240, will be freed while others  will be put on trial. A third category involves some prisoners  deemed too dangerous to be released.

Major human rights groups said the policies will still  allow the United States to detain prisoners seized far from a  battlefield and that key definitions were left out, such as  what constitutes “substantial” support for a militant group.

“In key elements they are a continuation of the Bush  administration,” said attorney Hina Shamsi of the American  Civil Liberties Union.

“This is really a case of old wine in new bottles,” said  the Center for Constitutional Rights in New York, which  represents a number of Guantanamo prisoners.

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