As featured on p. 218 of "Bloggers on the Bus," under the name "a MyDD blogger."

Saturday, March 14, 2009

Charge, Release, Or Change The Terms And Do The Same Thing

Yesterday I wrote about the Obama Administration decision to drop the term "enemy combatant" in dealing with detainees at Guantanamo. This was positive, as was rejecting the reliance on "inherent authority" as commander in chief in the detention of these prisoners. But semantics only go so far, and I should have done a deeper assessment of this.

WASHINGTON – 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."

We are still holding prisoners without charges, based on theories that, while not as extreme as the Bush Administration's, remain incomplete. Emptywheel is very direct about this.

The President has the authority ... the President determines ... the President has the authority.

You see, it's still the same unitary power, stripped of the baggage of Bush's vocabulary. And even as they abandon Bush's vocabulary, they progressively expand the reach of that authority to include just about all those whom Bush already determined were enemy combatants, no matter how nebulous that person's ties to al Qaeda [...]

In short, it's a big, fat, cynical game. A word game, like any other parlor game, giving a tired old concept a verbal facelift. Without, however, changing the concept itself.

The Obama Administration suggests in this filing it is just trying to meet its March 13 deadline. My first and best response to that is the same I used to have--as a professor--when students obviously turned in shoddy work just to meet my hardass deadlines: to tell the lazy student to start doing her work.

"You haven't completed the terms of the assignment. No matter whether you got this handed in by the designated deadline or not, you have not done your work. So take this back and do the work assigned in the first place. And don't turn in this shoddy word game as serious work again."

Thus far, this is just Bush's policies under new name. And they're not even clever enough word games to fool most of the people--particularly the international community--these word games were designed to fool.

Adam Serwer has more, with basically the same conclusion. The Administration gave themselves an out by saying that the process is evolving and is subject to future determination. I think the verdict is clear - bring these detentions in line with Constitutional law and international norms, or reap the consequences. Charge, or release.

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