Obama’s “Change” on Enemy Combatants

Obama borrows more-than-a-few Bush policies

Stonehill College

So the Bush-era Global War on Terror officially came to an end last Friday when the Obama administration declared that so-called "enemy combatants" would no longer be so called.

What they will be called is still being debated, though "He-Man", "Woman Haters Club", "Brotherhood of Evil Mutants" and "He's Not the Messiah; he's just a very naughty boy" are all under consideration.

But seriously, what's more interesting in this story is that the symbolism doesn't mean much. Take a look at what the Obama administration is actually arguing in federal court, and it's difficult to see the big, bold change from the "awful Bush administration" polices. It's unlikely that this change will cause elation among Obama's civil liberties constituents.

The simple fact that this "enemy combatant" change was announced on a Friday afternoon should have been clue number one that something was up.First rule every new administration learns is that any news that is either objectively bad -- or assured of ticking off your most loyal supporters -- should be released on a Friday, so it gets missed in the least read paper of the week, Saturday. 

What does the court filing say?  Well, The New York Times reports

The Justice Department argued that the president has the authority to detain terrorism suspects there without criminal charges, much as the Bush administration had asserted. It provided a broad definition of those who can be held, which was not significantly different from the one used by the Bush administration.

 The filing signaled that, as long as Guantánamo remains open, the new administration will aggressively defend its ability to hold some detainees there.

“The president has the authority to detain persons” who planned or aided the 2001 terrorist attacks as well as those “who were part of, or substantially supported, Taliban or Al Qaeda forces,” administration lawyers wrote.

Hmmm...doesn't that sort of sound, you know, familiar? Where have we heard that before? 

Oh, right, I remember! 

It was the latest example of the Obama administration’s taking ownership of Guantánamo, even after having announced it would close the prison, where 241 men remain.

“This seems fundamentally consistent with the positions of the prior administration,” said Steven A. Engel, who was a senior lawyer responsible for detainee issues in the Justice Department’s Office of Legal Counsel until the final day of the Bush administration.

Mr. Engel added that the term “enemy combatant” was not the issue. “The important point is that they recognize that we can detain members of the enemy” during a war, he said. 

 Well, this is just one of those rare, special cases where the Obama administration had to technically defend a position by the previous group, right? 

Well, not so rare, it turns out:  The Obama team defended the Bush administration's position on not revealing certain information related to its rendition policy with respect to the artists-formerly-known-as-enemy-combatants.  Obama lawyers cited, yep, "state secrets" as a reason for not providing the information. 

And, Attorney General Eric Holder -- during his confirmation hearings -- announced that the Obama administration would defend the telecommunications company lawsuit immunity that was part of the re-authorized Foreign Intelligence Service Act that passed last year.

No surprise there: Obama, to the horror of his base, voted for the Act last summer, even after he had sown up the Democratic nomination..

So, all those "awful" Bush policies that "left-wing" Obama ran against last year?  

Hmmm....don't seem so awful now, do they?  

Well, to the guy occupying the White House now, maybe not.  

To his supporters -- on the civil liberties part -- that's another story.  The lyric that may be going through their heads right now?  "Meet the new boss, same as the old boss."   

Robert A. George is a New York writer. He blogs at Ragged Thots. 

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