Make us your home page

Today’s top headlines delivered to you daily.

(View our Privacy Policy)

Obama administration's changes to terror-fighting terms may not change much at Guantanamo

WASHINGTON — No longer will there be "enemy combatants" at Guantanamo Bay in Cuba, the Obama administration said Friday. Moreover, the president no longer claims that his title as commander in chief allows him to order dangerous persons captured and held without trial.

Little is likely to change, however. Having abandoned the George W. Bush administration's favorite terms in the war on terrorism, the new administration claimed for itself roughly the same power to hold Guantanamo's detainees indefinitely, even those who never held a gun or went near a battlefield.

The Justice Department emphasized the change in terminology in a news release. Lawyers who have been fighting the government countered that nothing had changed. The Center for Constitutional Rights said the new administration "offers essentially the same definition of 'enemy combatant' without using the term." Friday's announcement arose as a result of last year's Supreme Court ruling that said Guantanamo prisoners could challenge their detention before a federal judge. Lawyers filed hundreds of petitions on their behalf.

Several federal judges were forced to decide what the Supreme Court left undecided: Who exactly can be held indefinitely as a prisoner in the war on terrorism? Is the definition limited to those who were terrorists and fighters who carried guns, or does it extend to civilians suspected of conspiring with al-Qaida?

In the 12-page legal memo sent to a judge Friday, the administration said it had tweaked the government's definition of who can be held without charges. The new definition says those who "substantially supported" al-Qaida or the Taliban can be held, regardless of where they were captured. The previous definition referred to those who gave "support" to al-Qaida or the Taliban.

The president's lawyers said Congress gave the president the authority he needed when it passed the authorization for the use of military force one week after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks. It said the president can use the military against "nations, organizations or persons" who planned or aided the terrorist attacks.

Bush cited the same authority when he created the Guantanamo prison, but he also said he could act on his own as commander in chief.

Obama administration's changes to terror-fighting terms may not change much at Guantanamo 03/13/09 [Last modified: Friday, March 13, 2009 10:03pm]
Photo reprints | Article reprints


Join the discussion: Click to view comments, add yours

  1. Florida beats LSU, wins first College World Series title


    OMAHA, Neb. — Florida scored four runs in the eighth inning to pull away from LSU, and the Gators beat their SEC rival 6-1 Tuesday night to complete a two-game sweep in the College World Series finals for their first national title in baseball.

    UF’s Nelson Maldonado, left, and Deacon Liput high-five after a run scores.
  2. Fatal crash closes westbound lanes on Park Boulevard N in Pinellas Park


    Westbound lanes on Park Boulevard N are closed at 62nd Way N in Pinellas Park following a fatal crash late Tuesday night.

  3. St. Petersburg showdown: Kriseman and Baker pull no punches in first forum

    Local Government

    A standing-room-only crowd packed a Midtown church banquet hall Tuesday to witness the first face-off between Mayor Rick Kriseman and former mayor Rick Baker in what is a watershed mayoral contest in the city's history.

    Former Mayor Rick Baker, left, is challenging incumbent Mayor Rick Kriseman, right, to become St. Petersburg mayor.
  4. Wildlife officers look for answers in gopher tortoise deaths while reward money piles up


    The blood had already pooled when the bodies were found, bashed and beaten. One was dead. The other was still gasping, but it was too late.

    A gopher tortoise emerges from a bush to feed on vegetation on Thursday in 2016 at the Moccasin Lake Environmental Education Center in Clearwater. The Florida Fish and Wildlife Commission is investigating the deaths of two tortoises that were beaten and their shells broken in Manatee County. [DOUGLAS R. CLIFFORD  |  Times]