The Department of Justice announced several weeks ago that the government would end the Bush-era practice of designating people “enemy combatants.”Â The Bush administration had asserted that the president has a wartime power to declare a person an “enemy combatant” arbitrarily and detain him or her indefinitely.Â The administration used “enemy combatant” status to ensure that suspected terrorists were held out of reach of both international law (namely the Geneva Conventions) and fundamental Constitutional rights, particularly the right to due process.
It is widely agreed that the president has increased powers during wartime.Â President Abraham Lincoln first asserted such wartime powers during the Civil War.Â Presidents Franklin D. Roosevelt and Harry Truman also took up expanded powers during war.Â Following September 11th, President Bush argued that he too had extraordinary wartime powers–this time from the War on Terrorism.
While the principle of expanded wartime powers is reasonable, it becomes concerning in the context of the War on Terrorism.Â Terrorists, by definition, do not represent a country; rather they are individuals or members of organized groups that commit acts of violence in an effort to attain change (usually political change).Â Terrorists can spring up anywhere in the world at any time.Â While this makes them particularly dangerous, it also changes the concept of “war.”Â In traditional wars, such as World War II, there are clear sides and the war ends when one side is defeated.Â A war against a noun , however, will always be perpetual.Â While the War on Terrorism certainly needs to be fought, using an indefinite war as grounds for extraordinary governmental powers is straight out of “1984″ and is certainly not something that the Framers had in mind.
Fortunately, President Barack Obama has signaled a change in course by dropping the “enemy combatant” designation and removing such prisoners from legal limbo. President Obama, a Constitutional law scholar himself, understands that America derives its greatness from its values and its freedoms, and that the terrorists have won we surrender our liberties.
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