Previewing Benjamin Wittes’ New Book on Law and Terror and Guantanamo

by Kenneth Anderson

I understand that Opinio Juris will be hosting a discussion of Benjamin Wittes’ new book, Law and the Long War: The Future of Justice in the Age of Terror (Penguin 2008) when it is released for distribution on June 19. That is a very good thing to do. I have heard Ben present material from that book and My Sources have got me an advance copy, which I am now reading, and I think it is the most important new element in the discussion of terrorism, detainees, and Guantanamo to appear in years and years. In particular, Ben has done something no one else has done, so far as I know, and read word for word all the available transcripts of what the detainees themselves have actually said about who they are. He has performed an invaluable service for everyone in these arguments by trying to pull together data and not just anecdotes about the detainees. Particularly for a new Democratic administration trying to go forward next year, and trying to figure out what to do beyond the slogan, “Close Guantanamo,” Ben’s book provides crucial information, as well as core analysis on which a new administration can decide how to make new policy. I had heard parts of this before in various presentations Ben has made around DC, but reading it whole shows me just how extremely good and important this book is. Certainly I look forward to reading the Opinio Juris book discussion.

2 Responses

  1. I saw his presentation at American University and spoke to him about this point. If I remember right, the graphs that formed the core of his presentations are based on the charge sheets prepared at GITMO. The question Ben was unable to answer for me then that I hope he will answer in this discussion is why should we believe the categorizations of information that comes from the GITMO tribunal processes (ART’s and CSRT’s)? If someone admits to something how can we know that was not a coerced confession given all we know at this stage about the things that have gone on at GITMO? The difference between who these people really are and who these documents say they are is a space that I hope Ben will address. How certain is he that he is mapping truth as opposed to mapping a further overlay of appearance that really is more distortion?

    My fear of course is that people will cite to this book in the way the introduction suggests as being authoritative without knowing the underlying methodology and questioning it. But, I suspect people really have little interest in truth with these persons held at GITMO – they are considered untermenschen by too many. That is a shame.



  2. I hate to interrupt the planning session for the new Democratic administration, but it is possible that the Republican could win (perhaps unlikely given the current economic mess, but it is within the realm of possibility). McCain would certainly face similar issues and, given his personal history, his actions on this subject would be closely watched. The book (properly weighed) may be helpful to him as well.

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