Afghan Drawdown Will Put Gitmo Detainees’ Status in Doubt

Claims of War's 'End' Will Remove Putative Basis for Detention

Though President Obama has signed a deal to keep US troops in Afghanistan well beyond 2014, potentially through 2024, the official line is that the war will “end” in 2014 and the occupation will transform into something else, short of war.

It’s all a semantic argument, aimed at placating a war-weary public by arguing that though the combat continues the “war” as such is over. But it also throws a wrench into the already flimsy legal pretext surrounding Guantanamo Bay.

The detentions without trial at Guantanamo Bay, and the whole conceit of “military tribunals” rest on the notion that the detainees are “enemy combatants.” But without an open-ended war, how can they sustain open-ended detention?

In the near term, the argument is likely to be that since Congress has banned letting the detainees go, the lack of any legal basis to hold them is irrelevant. Don’t expect that to hold up in court, however, and don’t expect the administration’s attempts to defer the inevitable legal battles to carry much weight without a war to lash the executive branch’s excesses to.

Author: Jason Ditz

Jason Ditz is senior editor of