What is an enemy combatant?

My intuitive answer would be that an enemy combatant is someone of hostile inclination who is engaging in combat, or is arguably a credible threat to engage in combat.

Evidently, that answer is wrong, or at least, insufficiently descriptive.

In the U.S. the U.S. Supreme Court defined an “enemy combatant”, which they used interchangably with “unlawful combatant” BTW, in a World War II case, Ex Parte Quirin. In this 1942 decision, the court confirmed the authority of Congress and the president to try Nazi terrorists operating in the United States by military commissions.

Read the case here this is what the SC said

However it should be noted that it it pretty unclear what meets this definition. The United Nations, Amnesty International and the International Committee of the Red Cross have disputed the U.S. definition of Afghan war detainees at Guantanamo Bay as enemy combatants. The U.S. insists that under SC ruling they are — I think that there is no clear agreed upon International definition which is why there is confusion

Also, note that President Bush is currently asserting that, as Commander-in-Chief of the armed forces, he has the Constitutional authority to designate pretty much anyone an enemy combatant, and to order the military to detain designees indefinitely, incommunicado, with very limited access to legal counsel, without formally charging them.

So, in practice, an enemy combatant is anyone the President says is an enemy combatant.

Thanks, jimmmy. I guess what I would like to find out is what the term means in an internationally agreed-upon context.

Thank you, too, UES. I know (generally) what the Bush administration’s position is; I find out stuff like that reading in GD and the Pit. Nobody seems to be interested in discussing what the term means over there, so I thought I’d come over here and get a factual answer.

Any non-Americans out there able to tell me if the term has meaning in an internationally agreed-upon context?

You may want to read the Hamdi decision by the 4th Circuit if you haven’t yet. See here for one summary analysis. (This ruling, and the analysis, are emphasizing US laws, but the meaning of the relevant Geneva conventions is addressed.) This ruling is for a fairly clear-cut (IMHO) case and is pretty narrowly tailored; in particular, it does not address the Padilla case explicitly. I suspect that the courts will look with greater skepticism on less clear-cut designations of “enemy combatant” and require more evidence in such cases than for Hamdi.