The Obama administration on Friday said it was abandoning the use in court proceedings of the Bush administration’s term “enemy combatant” as it argues for the continued detention of prisoners at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, symbolically separating itself from Bush detention policies.
But in a filing in federal court, the Justice Department argued that the president had expansive authority to detain terror suspects there without criminal charges, much as the Bush administration asserted. It provided a broad definition of those who can be held, signaling that, as long as Guantanamo remained open, the new administration would aggressively defend its ability to hold some detainees there.
“The president has the authority to detain persons” who planned or aided the 2001 terrorist attacks as well as those “who were part of, or substantially supported, Taliban or al Qaeda forces,” said the filing in some 40 habeas corpus cases of detainees’ challenging their imprisonment.
The filing in federal District Court in Washington bitterly disappointed critics of Guantanamo, who said it seemed to continue the policies they had criticized for more than seven years. It was the latest example of the Obama administration assuming ownership of Guantanamo, even while moving quickly to close the prison where 241 men remain.
“This seems fundamentally consistent with the positions of the prior administration,” said Steven A. Engel, who was a senior lawyer responsible for detainee issues in the Justice Department’s Office of Legal Counsel until the final day of the Bush administration.
Mr. Engel added that the term “enemy combatant” was not the issue. “The important point is that they recognize that we can detain members of the enemy” during a war.
The new administration’s position had been the subject of wide speculation before a court deadline Friday for the administration to tell federal judges what definition the administration believes the courts should use in the habeas corpus cases reviewing detainees’ cases. Some detainees’ lawyers had hoped for a much narrower definition, perhaps one that would have eliminated simply “supporting” the Taliban or al Qaeda as a ground for detention.
Such a change, some of the detainees’ lawyers had predicted