DOD General Counsel Jeh C. Johnson on Conditions for the End of the Conflict
Quick note further to Deborah’s post on the “end-game” of the current US counterterrorism regime. In category of great minds think about the same things, if not precisely alike, the same day Deborah posts, Defense Department General Counsel Jeh C. Johnson gives a speech at the Oxford Union, “The Conflict Against Al Qaeda and its Affiliates: How Will It End?” Ben Wittes has posted the text of the speech at Lawfare. Skimming it quickly, I’d flag this in particular (I’ve left out the footnotes):
In the current conflict with al Qaeda, I can offer no prediction about when this conflict will end, or whether we are, as Winston Churchill described it, near the “beginning of the end.” I do believe that on the present course, there will come a tipping point – a tipping point at which so many of the leaders and operatives of al Qaeda and its affiliates have been killed or captured, and the group is no longer able to attempt or launch a strategic attack against the United States, such that al Qaeda as we know it, the organization that our Congress authorized the military to pursue in 2001, has been effectively destroyed.
At that point, we must be able to say to ourselves that our efforts should no longer be considered an “armed conflict” against al Qaeda and its associated forces; rather, a counterterrorism effort against individuals who are the scattered remnants of al Qaeda, or are parts of groups unaffiliated with al Qaeda, for which the law enforcement and intelligence resources of our government are principally responsible, in cooperation with the international community – with our military assets available in reserve to address continuing and imminent terrorist threats.
At that point we will also need to face the question of what to do with any members of al Qaeda who still remain in U.S. military detention without a criminal conviction and sentence. In general, the military’s authority to detain ends with the “cessation of active hostilities.” For this particular conflict, all I can say today is that we should look to conventional legal principles to supply the answer, and that both our Nations faced similar challenging questions after the cessation of hostilities in World War II, and our governments delayed the release of some Nazi German prisoners of war.
For now, we must continue our efforts to disrupt, dismantle and ensure a lasting defeat of al Qaeda. Though severely degraded, al Qaeda remains a threat to the citizens of the United States, the United Kingdom and other nations. We must disrupt al Qaeda’s terrorist attack planning before it gets anywhere near our homeland or our citizens. We must counter al Qaeda in the places where it seeks to establish safe haven, and prevent it from reconstituting in others.