Obama abandons "enemy combatant" term for Gitmo detainees; Update: "Old wine in new bottles"

There are no enemies. There are only friends we haven’t made yet.

A fine alternative term via Twitter: “Undocumented protagonists.”

In a filing today with the federal District Court for the District of Columbia, the Department of Justice submitted a new standard for the government’s authority to hold detainees at the Guantanamo Bay Detention Facility. The definition does not rely on the President’s authority as Commander-in-Chief independent of Congress’s specific authorization. It draws on the international laws of war to inform the statutory authority conferred by Congress. It provides that individuals who supported al Qaeda or the Taliban are detainable only if the support was substantial. And it does not employ the phrase “enemy combatant.”…

In its filing today, the government bases its authority to hold detainees at Guantanamo on the Authorization for the Use of Military Force, which Congress passed in September 2001, and which authorized the use of force against nations, organizations, or persons the president determines planned, authorized, committed, or aided the September 11 attacks, or harbored such organizations or persons. The government’s new standard relies on the international laws of war to inform the scope of the president’s authority under this statute, and makes clear that the government does not claim authority to hold persons based on insignificant or insubstantial support of al Qaeda or the Taliban.

I won’t pretend to know the law of detention well enough to say if this has practical consequences or if it’s just a cosmetic change to please the left by scrubbing Dubya’s fingerprints from the doctrine. My hunch, given that we’ve been repatriating “insubstantial” jihadis for years now (with deadly results), is that it’s the latter per Rich Lowry’s disection of Obama’s standard M.O.: Denounce one of Bush’s policies, pretend to reverse it, then adopt it more or less as is. Sounds like the plan here. Exit question: Is this a signal that The One plans to keep Gitmo open longer than expected? If he’s serious about shutting it down soon, there’s really no need to placate the “international community” with gestures like this. Just close it. If anything, this smells like a sly way to justify continued detention going forward. “Don’t blame me — I’m just following the law Congress and international treaties gave me.”

Update: WaPo’s confusing me. Are there practical consequences to this or not?

Judges have said the definition will play a key role in determining whether the government has justified the confinement of scores of detainees who are challenging their status in U.S. District Court…

Though dropping the term “enemy combatant” will have little practical effect, it is a symbolic move by the Obama Administration to break with the past.

Update: The lefty Center for Constitutional Rights rolls its eyes. Lowry 1, Obama 0:

“While the new government has abandoned the term ‘Enemy Combatant,’ it appears on first reading that whatever they call those they claim the right to detain, they have adopted almost the same standard the Bush administration used to detain people without charge – with one change, the addition of the word ‘substantially’ before the word ‘supported.’ This is really a case of old wine in new bottles.”