“Unprivileged Enemy Billigerent”: Roll Over, Eric Blair

U.S. Senators McCain and Lieberman have introduced a bill that, if passed, would govern the treatment of what the bill calls “unprivileged enemy belligerent[s].”

Roll over, Eric Blair. Senator McCain has changed buses. He has moved from the Straight Talk Express to the Newspeak Express.

Here is a link to the bill, in case you’d like to peruse it and assess it yourself:

text of bill

And here is a link to an article from The Atlantic Monthly; said article suggests to its readers and all citizens that they ought to read the bill carefully.

A few preliminary observations, starting with what may seem like a trivial one:

1. Note that “enemy combatant” has been replaced by “unprivileged enemy billigerent,” a phrase in which a noun (enemy) has become an adjective and an adjective (belligerent) has become a noun. This switch may the first whiff of Orwellian mischief.

2. Note the tautology: Deemed a legally “unprivileged” person, a person thus has no privileges under U.S. or international law. Who gets to deem the person “unprivileged”? The people who have already decided the person is unprivileged, not a neutral observer. (Recall how many detainees at Guantanamo turned out to have been arrested overseas and hauled over to Guantanamo for reasons even the U.S. government later admitted were completely mistaken. )

3. Note that the first substantial paragraph of the bill reads as follows:

(a) MILITARY CUSTODY REQUIREMENT.—Whenever
4 within the United States, its territories, and possessions,
5 or outside the territorial limits of the United States, an
6 individual is captured or otherwise comes into the custody
7 or under the effective control of the United States who
8 is suspected of engaging in hostilities against the United
9 States or its coalition partners through an act of ter10
rorism, or by other means in violation of the laws of war,
11 or of purposely and materially supporting such hostilities,

12 and who may be an unprivileged enemy belligerent, the
13 individual shall be placed in military custody for purposes
14 of initial interrogation and determination of status in ac15
cordance with the provisions of this Act.

I introduced the Italics to highlight the apparent fact that, simply on the basis of a suspicion that the person “may be” an “unprivileged enemy belligerent,” the person is treated as “unprivileged” [so much for “may be”], meaning that the person goes into military custody for “initial interrogation,” which, as we know, might entail torture, assuming (as I do) that water-boarding is torture.

A ubiquitous, reflexive response to any concern expressed for some hypothetical person who may be “an enemy belligerent” is that one shouldn’t be worried about the rights (privileges) of such a person because, hey, we are at war with “terror,” and this is no time to worry anyone deemed “the enemy.”

A similarly ubiquitous, reflexive response to the response is that, by expressing concern for the treatment of alleged enemies, one is expressing concern for the alleged values of “us,” not “them.”

So let’s steer clear of the reflexive responses and focus instead on the term “unprivileged enemy belligerent,” and let us ask what often turns out to be a very helpful question: what does this term mean? I’m just spit-balling here, but I think Eric Blair would want us to ask such a question.

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