Monday, March 16, 2009

From enemy combatants to delicate flowers--what does a name matter

Delicate flowers is a rough English translation of a derogatory term the Japanese used to refer to Allied POWs during World War Two. It referred to individuals who lacked the toughness or moral fiber to fight to the death, and who had been so dishonored by their surrender that they had lost any right to protected treatment.

At the end of the war in Europe, General Eisenhower side-stepped some Geneva Convention protocols on feeding and housing the last 2-3 million German soldiers who surrendered by declaring them Disarmed Enemy Personnel [DEPs] rather than Prisoners of War.

In contemporary news, the Obama administration has dropped the Bushco designation Enemy combatants, while maintaining virtually all of the previous administration's legal arguments about the government's power to hold people, virtually forever, without the slightest due process rights.


They're not called "enemy combatants" anymore, but that may be the Obama administration's only real change in policy with regards to military detainees. Whatever they're called, anybody said by the U.S. government to give "substantial" support to al Qaeda or the Taliban will still be held without charges or a trial in which American authorities have to prove their accusations....

In the formal document filed with the court, Respondents’ Memorandum Regarding the Government's Detention Authority Relative to Detainees Held at Guantanamo Bay (PDF), the Justice department argues that habeas corpus petitions by detainees should be viewed in light of the administration's position regarding suspected terrorists:

The President has the authority to detain persons that the President determines planned, authorized, committed, or aided the terrorist attacks that occurred on September 11, 2001, and persons who harbored those responsible for those attacks. The President also has the authority to detain persons who were part of, or substantially supported, Taliban or al-Qaida forces or associated forces that are engaged in hostilities against the United States or its coalition partners, including any person who has committed a belligerent act, or has directly supported hostilities, in aid of such enemy armed forces.

The problem, of course, is that, in the absence of specific charges and trials, the government never has to prove its claims that the people it locks up ever truly "engaged in hostilities against the United States." It simply makes assertions against people it doesn't like and locks the cell door.

This position is essentially indistinguishable from the one taken by the Bush administration. In the memorandum, Obama administration officials cite the same precedents (Ex parte Quirin) dredged up by their predecessors.

No more enemy combatants? As one of my friends would say, A distinction that, without a difference.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Just reported: of all those enemy combantants at Gitmo...only 24 could be considered possible terrorists....and the guvmint knew the others were not, but detained and tortured them anyway! Those tortured may never go to trial because they were tortured...whats truth, what tortured truth.

So why is Obama not shutting the place down right now! Why is he continuing these black sites all around the world? 16 in Iraq, and who knows how many in Afganistan.