Pentagon Issues Broad Definition of ‘Enemy Combatant’

The Pentagon has released a document called Joint Doctrine for Detainee Operations. There's a lot there and I haven't digested it all. Three things jump out at me.

First, this document has been in the works for a year. What were they doing before then? What took so long once they started?

Second, as more fully described below, the document sets out a new and very broad definition of who is an “enemy combatant” — the class of persons the Administration claims are outside the protection of the Geneva Convention system, being neither soldier nor civilian (a better reading of the GC system, I'd argue, is that everyone is one or the other). According to the new definition, anyone who is a “affiliated” (what's that mean?) with a group listed under Executive Order 13224 [i.e. in theory any group identified by Presidential order!] is a potential enemy combatant. That sweeps very broadly indeed.

Third, the document is redolent with exhortations that everyone is to be treated humanely, even Enemy Combatants. And it sets out detailed rules as to how captured persons are to be processed, questioned, etc. In that, it's something of a critique of practices to date. And maybe a welcome sign of belated reform.

Here's the section that defines an Enemy Combatant:

c. Additional Classification. In reference to the Global War on Terror there is an additional classification of detainees who, through their own conduct, are not entitled to the privileges and protection of the Geneva Conventions. These personnel, when detained, are classified as enemy combatants.

(1) Enemy Combatant (EC). Although they do not fall under the provisions of the Geneva Convention, they are still entitled to be treated humanely, subject to military necessity, consistent with the principles of GC, and without any adverse distinction based on race, color, religion, gender, birth, wealth, or any similar criteria, and afforded adequate food, drinking water, shelter, clothing, and medical treatment; allowed the free exercise of religion consistent with the requirements of such detention. There is a comprehensive list of terrorists and terrorist groups identified under Executive Order 13224, located at Anyone detained that is affiliated with these organizations will be classified as EC. Furthermore, there are individuals that may not be affiliated with the listed organizations that may be classified as an EC. On these specific individuals, guidance should be obtained from higher headquarters. As defined by the Deputy Secretary of Defense, an EC is defined as:

“Any person that US or allied forces could properly detain under the laws and customs of war. For purposes of the war on terror an enemy combatant includes, but is not necessarily limited to, a member or agent of Al Qaeda, Taliban, or another international terrorist organization against which United States is engaged in an armed conflict. This may include those individuals or entities designated in accordance with references E or G, as identified in applicable Executive Orders approved by the Secretary of Defense.”

Deputy Secretary of Defense global screening criteria, Feb 20, 2004

Reference E – Comprehensive List of Terrorists and Terrorist Groups Identified Under Executive Order 13224 (updates at

Reference G Patterns of Global Terrorism. Department of State, 2002 (updates at

(2) Enemy combatants may be identified into the following sub-categories: (a) Low Level Enemy Combatant (LLEC). Detainees who are not a threat beyond the immediate battlefield or that do not have high operational or strategic intelligence or law enforcement value that requires the specialized type of exploitation capability available at a Joint Interrogation and Debriefing Center.

(b) High Value Detainee (HVD). A detainee who possesses extensive and/or high level information of value to operational commanders, strategic intelligence or law enforcement agencies and organizations.

(c) Criminal Detainee. A person detained because he is reasonably suspected of having committed a crime against local nationals or their property or a crime not against US or coalition forces. Excludes crimes against humanity or atrocities. (Note: this sub-category may also be applied to CIs).

(d) High Value Criminal (HVC). A detainee who meets the criteria of a HVD and is reasonably suspected of having committed crimes against humanity or committed atrocities, a breach of humanitarian law that is an inhumane act committed against any person.

(e) Security Detainee. A civilian interned during a conflict or occupation for his or her own protection.

It's important to understand that categories (a)-(e) are just subdivisions of the first section, not additions to it. Even so, this definition of “enemy combatant” is both the clearest and the broadest I have yet encountered.

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One Response to Pentagon Issues Broad Definition of ‘Enemy Combatant’

  1. How is a security detainee (e) an enemy combatant, if explicit in the definition, they were not fighting, but detained for their own protection?

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