New and smokin’ hot: ‘Unprivileged enemy belligerents’

New and smokin’ hot: ‘Unprivileged enemy belligerents’

Until recently — like, say, two weeks ago — the Department of Defense used the term unlawful combatant as the label for terrorists captured by American military and intelligence forces as a way to distinguish them from uniformed soldiers of a recognized state authority in a straight-up fight. Their new manual dispenses with that term, the Federation of American Scientists noticed today (via Steven Aftergood and Olivier Knox):

When it comes to Department of Defense doctrine on military treatment of detained persons, “unlawful enemy combatants” are a thing of the past. That term has been retired and replaced by “unprivileged enemy belligerents” in a new revision of Joint Publication 3-13 on Detainee Operations, dated November 13, 2014.


If anyone’s to blame for the blandification of nomenclature … it’s Congress. The new revision to the DoD manual brings the terminology in line with 10 U.S. Code § 948a, which provides definitions for detainee policies rewritten by Congress to refine the military-commission process. …

This section goes back to the Military Commissions Act of 2006, sponsored by Mitch McConnell, but the new terms were introduced in the 111th Congress in the NDAA for 2009. It passed in October 2009 and was signed a few days later by President Obama. The only contemporaneous discussion of this change I could find in a quick search was by Joanne Mariner at Findlaw, who dismissed it as “cosmetic.” Another change was somewhat more substantial…

At any rate, the new nomenclature seems pretty silly, and the need to change from unlawful combatant non-existent. Don’t blame the Department of Defense for it, although we can certainly wonder why it took them five years to catch up to the changes (and what may have prompted the recent action).

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