Armed Forces

Obama Justice Department Rejects Bush Logic on Detainees

The Justice Department Friday threw out the Bush administration's justification for detaining "enemy combatants" at Guantanamo Bay, establishing a new standard for the government's authority to detain terror suspects at the facility.

The Bush administration had argued that Guantanamo Bay detainees can be held without charge because they are "enemy combatants" who in some way supported Al-Qaeda or the Taliban in Afghanistan

But the new Justice Department rejected that logic Friday in a federal court filing, claiming instead that only individuals who provided "substantial" support to al Qaeda or the Taliban can be detained.

"As we work towards developing a new policy to govern detainees, it is essential that we operate in a manner that strengthens our national security, is consistent with our values, and is governed by law," Attorney General Eric Holder said. "The change we've made today meets each of those standards and will make our nation stronger."

The new Justice Department -- like the one before it -- bases its authority to hold detainees at Guanatanamo Bay on the Authorization for Use of Military Force that Congress passed after the attacks on Sept. 11, 2001. 

But Friday's filing says, "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."

Friday's filing, part of ongoing litigation brought after a Supreme Court ruling last year that allowed Guantanamo Bay detainees to challenge their detention in federal courts, did not employ the phrase "enemy combatant."

In January, U.S. Disctrict Judge John Bates, presiding over a number of detainees' challenges, ordered the Obama administration to submit any "refinements" it may have to the definition of an "enemy combatant." The judge essentially put his cases on hold until the new Obama administration could weigh in.

The Justice Department's move could impact the more than 200 cases across the country of Guantanamo Bay detainees challenging their detention in federal court.

This comes nearly two months after another U.S. District Judge in Washington, Richard Leon, became the first federal judge to begin hearings for a detainee challenging his detention. 

Ghaleb al-Bihani, a Yemeni citizen listening to a translation of the hearings via telephone from Guantanamo Bay, was accused by the government of being an al-Qaeda-trained fighter for the Taliban in Afghanistan. Al-Bihani insisted he was only a cook for the Taliban, but on Jan. 28, Judge Leon rejected al-Bihani's challenge, ruling that he was "being lawfully detained as an enemy combatant because it is more probable than not" that he supported Al-Qaeda and Taliban forces while in Afghanistan.