March 13, 2009 / 8:26 PM / 11 years ago

U.S. drops "enemy combatant" as basis for detention

By Randall Mikkelsen

WASHINGTON, March 13 (Reuters) - The Obama administration dropped the term "enemy combatant" and incorporated international law on Friday as its basis for holding terrorism suspects at Guantanamo prison while it works to close the facility.

The U.S. Justice Department said it had filed court papers outlining its break from Bush administration detention standards, and said only those who provided "substantial" support to al Qaeda or the Taliban would be considered detainable.

"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," U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder said in a statement.

"The change we’ve made today meets each of those standards and will make our nation stronger."

Unlike under former President George W. Bush, who greatly sought to expand presidential powers during his term, the new detention policy does not rely on the president’s powers as military commander in chief to hold terrorism suspects at Guantanamo.

That policy has been subject to numerous legal battles and Supreme Court rulings that rebuked the Bush administration.

Instead, the Justice Department said, "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.’"

It said it had told the court that the Obama administration was reviewing its entire detention policy — as part of its plan to close the prison at the U.S. naval base on Guantanamo Bay, Cuba — and further refinements of the policies were possible. (Additional reporting by Jim Vicini, editing by Jackie Frank)

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