Faust W. Bush signing the 2006 MCA

Faust W. Bush signing the 2006 MCA

The era of impossibility it’s over. Bob Madoff has finally been caught and trialed; the European Union is pressing Luxemburg and Switzerland for more transparency; and Cambodia is working through truth tribunals to explore the darkest years of the Khmers Rouges regime and sentence the masterminds behind torture centers. It is in this climate of restorative justice and governmental compromises that, at long last, the Justice Department is suppressing the definition of “unlawful enemy combatant” that had sent the United States’ foreign policy into illegal and illegitimate territory. After the controversy surrounding the maintain of the Bagram Prison in Afghanistan, this is coming as a huge relief.

Under the 2006 Military Commissions Act, an unlawful enemy combatant is “a person who has engaged in hostilities or who has purposefully and materially supported hostilities against the United States or its co-belligerents who is not a lawful enemy combatant”. This definition was contrary to international humanitarian law drawing a solid and supposedly unbreachable line between civilians and armed forces (“lawful” enemy combatants) protecting civilians from the laws of war. A combatant can be legally captured and detained, and fall under fire; a civilian, however, if attacked in the course of a war, is a victim of an unlawful action in the part of the belligerent state. The United States, in the course of their war on terrorism, have extended the definition of a combatant to suit any potential Al-Quaeda member hypothetically targeting the United States and its government. Just as unlawful as said enemy combatant was, the sentence previsioned for them could include internment (emprisonment without charges), and the trial before a martial court, as would any soldier – regardless of the realistic status of said combatant.

The definition of “unlawful enemy combatant” is one of the most controversial decisions ever made by the Bush Admnistration, even if a Supreme Court ruling had at the time declared that such measures were to be temporary and applied in “extraordinary times” (see Boumediene v Bush). Obama is thus attempting to put an end to the unstoppable and bloody greed for combat that Bush had implemented during his time in office.  Supported by the firm intention to pursue a fight against international terrorism through diplomatic means and the support of the international community, President Obama is addressing the European Union’s biggest concerns and has already decided on a triennal plan to withdraw most of the US troops from Iraq by 2011. Those efforts, however, can prove to be only minimal in the long run as “security troops” might be required to stay depending on the United States’ assessment of the stability in the region; also, those troops might not be sent home, but deployed in Afghanistan where the situation has been deemed even more chaotic than in Iraq. Regarding another painfully sore thumb, Guantanamo Bay, Obama reinforces the military’s right to use it as a detainment camp, but stresses that those powers will come from the vote of Congress, and not by extraordinary and undemocratic powers handed out to the President in order to by-pass a legitimate decision.

It is yet too early to decide whether Obama’s efforts will be sustained throughout his presidential term and beyond; but it is safe to say we are saluting the end of an unilateral presidential rule, where popular demands and international constraints are being shoved to the backburner as self-centered and self-destructive alleged priorities are being treated with disregard to anything the Constitution holds dear: freedom and respect of the law. It is now time to pick up the discarded pieces from everything that has been destroyed under the Bush Administration and rebuild a society in which we can finally believe in and genuinely become a part of. It is going to be a long and painful process, but even if humanitarian law has certainly not lost the war, at least it can claim a victory in this battle; that’s one positive aspect we’ll take from this rollercoaster week.