The Justice Department argued yesterday before an Appeals Court that an enemy combatant is whatever the President says one is, and that once you’re classified as such, you have no legal rights whatsoever. I hate to be alarmist, but I find this whole “enemy combatant” gambit disturbing. I don’t have a problem with the idea of an enemy combatant being imprisoned until hostilities cease (as a prisoner of war), but when we start to expand the definition of combatant and hostilities such that any person can be imprisoned without a trial for any length of time, we’ve crossed a line that we really don’t want to cross as a society. The article discusses Yasir Esam Hamdi, a Saudi national who happened to be born in the US and was captured in Afghanistan. Clearly he more closely fits the enemy combatant mold than Jose Padilla, who is an American citizen, was captured in America, and as far as we know, has never committed a hostile act toward the United States. It’s certainly true that Padilla went to Pakistan and Afghanistan for terrorist training, but his case leads us further down the slippery slope toward imprisoning people for utterly arbitrary reasons.