Friday, March 13, 2009

No More 'Enemy Combatants'

This decision by the Department of Justice released today outlining a new standard for terrorist detainees is disappointing:

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.”

Aside from the needless announcement (in my opinion, as it has nothing to do with the submission to the court) that the phrase “enemy combatant” is a thing of the past, the new definition is more ominous because it marks a President ceding to the Congress, and to the timorous authorities that codify the international laws of war, the independent authority as Commander-in-Chief to decide what to do with captured fighters that every American president has enjoyed since George Washington.

It isn’t in the nature of executives to surrender constitutional power. No matter how benevolent a game they talk prior to election, every president ends up jealously guarding, and expanding where he can, the prerogatives of the executive branch. There’s nothing wrong with it: it was meant by the Founders to be that way. They understood the president would always test the limits of his power and may need to be checked, and they knew that the legislative branch in wartime would dither as usual, just when quick command decisions are imperative.

Our system of government hates a vacuum just as much as nature does. The authority that Obama is surrendering as Commander-in-Chief will immediately be absorbed and expanded upon, somehow, by Congress--which is now under the control of a majority of people who never took the jihadist war we’re defending against seriously. Now that he’s surrendered it in the first few weeks of his first year in the White House, he will never get it back without a horrendous fight.

What I’ve seen of President Obama doesn’t make me believe he’s any less hungry for power than any other President--far from it. Is it possible that he has just shot off one of his own presidential appendages (I won’t speculate which one) out of sheer ideological obtuseness our being in a desperate global war, and not just a persistent cycle of international crime?

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