Benjamin Wittes on the AQ7 Ad

by Kenneth Anderson

The excitement over the AQ7 ad put out by Liz Cheney’s organization has died down, but Ben Wittes has this piece up in The New Republic extending the letter that he drafted, and to which I earlier linked, signed by a group of conservative and centrist folks criticizing it.  I was one of the signers, and wound up sticking up by own very lengthy comment about it over at Volokh.  I didn’t link here at the time, as I thought the tone a little waspish for OJ, but with Ben’s article in TNR, I’ll change my mind and link to it (it’s long and the title is “No Righteous Gentile Award, Please”).

I suppose the key point for Ben and me, in somewhat different ways, is that we have each received much praise from folks on the left for defending Obama lawyers such as Neal Katyal or Jen Daskal.  No one objects to praise, or at least I don’t, but much of it was a little misplaced.  The praise tended to be as though, in order to defend the Obama lawyers, we had somehow changed our minds about the Bush lawyers.  Whereas, for Ben and for me, each in somewhat different ways, the issue was the same.  We defended Katyal and Daskal because we had defended the Bush lawyers and thought the same principle applied.  I also followed up with an response to conservatives such as Andy McCarthy who attacked the Wittes letter; it too was fairly waspish in tone.  What with health care reform, and lots of other things on the agenda, the discussion is moving on, but it has been an important one, and at least among conservatives, a clarifying one.

From the opening of Ben Wittes’s essay:


Where Have I Seen the NYT’s Detainee Data Project Before …? And Is the Times Implying that It’s Okay to Hold Some Detainees Without Trial?

by Kenneth Anderson

The New York Times ran a front page story from its lead Guantanamo reporter yesterday.   (William Glaberson and Margot Williams, research assistance Andrei Scheinkman, “Next President Will Face Test on Detainees: Some at Guantanamo Called Serious Risks,” NYT, Monday, November 3, 2008 (behind reg. user wall), A1; plus a referenced data base of detainees used to analyze the detainee records.)

Now, where was it that I first heard of what Glaberson et al. have done here – created an elaborate data base of all the detainees and their statements in front of the military commissions and various hearings, and read thousands of pages of testimony, much of it from the detainees themselves – where was it, again?  Oh, I remember, Benjamin Wittes’s book from not so many months ago, Law and the Long War.  As discussed here at Opinio Juris in a roundtable.  But is there any reference to Wittes’s pathbreaking work in this article or even in the data base?  Not so far as I can tell; if there is, my humble apologies to all concerned (no fair adding it unacknowledged afterwards, of course).

Law and the Long War: Closing Post

by Chris Borgen

On behalf of all of us at Opinio Juris, I want to thank Benjamin Wittes  for joining us this week for a symposium his book Law and the Long War.  We also want to thank  Bobby Chesney,  Geoff CornMarty LedermanGlenn Sulmasy, and Steve Vladeck for their guest-blogging with us. Their contributions were invaluable.

We also want to thank everyone else from the Opinio Juris community who commented or followed the discussion.

We hope you found it interesting and useful.

Later this month, we will have our next book symposium (our first from the Oxford University Press/ Opinio Juris Book Club). Dean Tom Farer of the Graduate School of International Studies of the University of Denver (and other guests) will be joining us to discuss his book Confronting Global Terrorism and American Neo-Conservatism: The Framework of a Liberal Grand Strategy.

It should be a good follow-up to the symposium we have just completed. More details soon.

Rounding Things Up

by Benjamin Wittes

Well, we never got as far as interrogation or surveillance, but that’s okay. This has been a truly exceptional exchange, a model of everything the debate over law and the war on terror too often is not: civil, serious, rigorous, and respectful of the profound difficulty of the issues at hand. Many thanks to all who participated in it and to the OJ team for hosting it.

One big-picture thought in closing: We’re actually approaching some kind of synthesis here, or at least veering in the general direction of one. On the book’s basic premises, the argument is between those (like me) who believe that that congressional design of the system is essential and that judicial design dangerous but who also believe that extensive judicial involvement in the system is critical to its success and those who believe that judicial involvement is essential and that judicial design is not all that scary, but who also welcome congressional design involvement. That’s not an insurmountable divide, frankly. On detention, the argument is between those (like me) who believe that the existing detention powers of the government should be supplemented by one tailored to the current problems and those who believe that law of war and the criminal law adequately provide for and regulate detentions in the current conflict. That’s also not an insurmountable barrier, since I agree that the laws of war are, in a pinch, serviceable and Marty, Deborah, and Steve do not seem per se against any supplmental authority. Had we gotten as far as interrogation, I suspect we might have said something similar there, and recent congressional evidence of an emerging consensus on surveillance is, well, pretty striking…

Closing Thoughts on the Road Ahead

by Bobby Chesney

I want to close by thanking Ben for writing this terrific book, and our hosts here at OJ for sponsoring this discussion.  Before sigining off, however, I want to offer a few predictions and related observations about the road ahead.

It appears quite possible that in the near future we will substantially reduce our reliance on military detention for terrorism suspects at least insofar as they are captured outside of Iraq and Afghanistan (I predict that no matter who wins the next election, we are not going to abandon or even substantially alter our detention practices in either of those theaters). 

Assuming that this change is not accompanied by adoption of a hybrid detention framework along the lines Ben has proposed, this will result in increased pressure on DOJ to identify grounds for prosecution (I predict that no matter who wins the next election, there will still be substantial interest in preventive incapacitation rather than just surveillance of terrorism suspects (though you should listen to this story by Ari Shapiro on NPR Morning Edition for the view that FBI may be leaning in the latter direction these days as it grows into its intelligence-gathering responsibilities)). 

We may then go a substantial period without any further attacks in the US.  In that case, I predict that we will see a growing trend of criticism attacking the substantive scope of federal criminal law relating to terrorism, particularly as it relates to conspiracy and material support prosecutions, and in general a greater backlash against the prevention-oriented framework of current counterterrorism law. 

Sooner or later, however, we will again suffer a strategically-significant terrorist attack in the US (or a series of smaller attacks, akin to the Beltway Sniper, that collectively have a strategic impact).  At that point, we will experience tremendous pressure either to revert to our post-9/11 practices or perhaps even undertake more draconian measures.  When that moment comes, I hope that we heed Steve’s warning not lose sight of our past problems and abuses.  If we can do that, though, I believe the result will be to draw us toward just the sort of proposals that Ben has set forth in Law and the Long War.  I am predicting, in short, that the conversation we’ve had this week will be relevant for a very long time to come.

A Few Final Thoughts and the Problem of Un-Ringing Bells…

by Steve Vladeck

I must confess that I’ve been a bit cowed into silence by the heavyweight detention discussion between Deborah, Marty, and Ben. At the risk of wading in, though, I think Ben’s point in his most recent post — that detention should be based upon “dangerousness in the context of a showing of some significant relationship with groups against which Congress has authorized the use of force” seems reasonable on the surface, but assumes away the problem that cases like Parhat illustrate, i.e., the demonstration of “some significant relationship.” Is it true that anyone with such a relationship is presumptively dangerous, and thereby detainable under Ben’s framework? Or is there a second showing — first that there is a relationship, and second that within the contours of that relationship, the particular detainee is particularly dangerous? If Ben means the second, then I’m far less troubled (although not completely satisfied, for some of the reasons articulated by Deborah and Marty). But if Ben means the first, then we’re right back where we started, no?

We’re supposed to start winding down this conversation, so rather than dwell on this point, I want to briefly segue to a larger question that has plagued me from the beginning of this debate: are we to judge proposals like those in Ben’s book in a vacuum? Or, in contrast, should we see these proposals through the lens of the many egregious missteps the Bush Administration has taken in its conduct of the fight against terrorism over the past seven years?

Al-Marwallah’s Ears Must Be Burning

by Benjamin Wittes

A few final thoughts on detention and Al-Marwallah before we move on to interrogation–a subject on which I’m certain my arguments will provoke no disagreement. ;-)

First, a concession: Marty is quite right that there is an ambiguity in the book concerning what the Al-Marwallah example stands for. I had not noticed this until his last post, and it warrants clarification. I believe that someone like Al-Marwallah is detainable on the basis of the laws of war (as, with a little more hand-wringing than I would expend on the man, does Marty). In other words, we agree that he is very likely subject to lawful extra-criminal detention of some sort for some very long period of time. I do, however, also thing that if we are totally honest about why we want to detain people like Al-Marwallah, we have to acknowledge that our reasons are not quite the same as they are in conventional law of war detentions. In these more conventional detentions, we detain because the subject is an obvious (by dint of his uniform) arm of a state with whom we have a political difference unbridgeable except by the use of force. We consider the detainee an honorable figure to whom no opprobrium attaches and with whom we have no individual battle. And we offer him no–or almost no–process, because we assume there to be no doubt as to his identity, affiliation, or status. Moreover, we don’t sweat much over his liberty because we know he’ll be released at the termination of hostilities…

Quick al-Marwalah Follow-Ups

by Marty Lederman

Well, Ben, much as I look forward to dining with you to discuss these issues further, I won’t take that bet, because I tend to agree with you that al-Marwalah could be detained under the laws of war themselves, if the evidence could fairly be read, as you suggest, to indicate that he was engaged in combat against coalition forces under the direction of the Taliban. Such detention would, as in Hamdi, be for the purpose of incapacitating him from returning to the field of battle under our enemy’s command in Afghanistan. If and when the Taliban gives up the fight, such detention would end.

If that’s all you meant to say about al-Marwalah, then I apologize for overreading that portion of your book. I had assumed, however, that al-Marwalah was your lead example of the need to authorize detention on “premises [that] differ fundamentally from those of wartime detentions,” namely, incarcerations “designed to keep extremely dangerous individuals from acting on their deeply held murderous beliefs and instincts.” Why did I think this? Because you write that “the reason to detain men like Al-Marwalah . . . [is] that trained ‘Arab fighers’ who ‘don’t know’ if they’re Al Qaeda members pose a prospective menace to American lives.” (my itals)…

More Detention Cases

by Deborah Pearlstein

A quick note on the two latest case examples on the table in our ongoing detention debate. First, Mr. Al-Marwallah’s case is a prime example of why we shouldn’t make broad new detention policy based on the problems of Gitmo alone. Mr. Al-Marwallah may not be prosecutable for taking terrorist training pre-2001 since the criminal material support statute in effect at that time may not (emphasize may) have had the requisite extraterritorial scope. Any such lacuna in the substantive scope of the criminal law has since been corrected. Mr. Al-Marwallah, were he arrested today and gave uncoerced statements about his receipt of terrorist training, would be precisely prosecutable under at least two federal criminal laws I can think of, with few problems beyond. I believe we can handle the Mr. Al-Marwallah’s of the world today. No further legislation necessary. (As for Mr. Al-Marwallah himself, I’ll leave to Marty to detail the theory under AUMF, etc. as to what should happen now.)…

Al-Marwallah and Standards for Detention

by Benjamin Wittes

Let me start by saying that I don’t think I’ve substantially narrowed my detention criteria between the book and this discussion–though I am potentially amenable to doing so. The book is written for a general-interest audience and, consequently, at a higher-level of altitude than this discussion is taking place. Precisely to preserve the ability to have this discussion sort of more granular discussion, I wrote that the contours of the detainable class “will require careful legislative definition” (p. 163) and contented myself in the book with the most general principles for defining the class. I have, to be sure, been more specific in my discussion here as to some of the legislative criteria I might apply (emphasis on the word “might”), but I think they are well within the ambit of the principles I describe in the book.

Marty does not quote the sentence I actually intended as the centerpiece: “The core of the authority should more or less track the domestic power to lock up the insane: A person should be subject to administrative detention if he is both a member or associate of opposing forces and dangerous for that reason.” In this discussion, I have added a third prong to this two-pronged test–the impracticability of criminal trial–and I have tried to give more texture (informed by Judge Wilkinson’s opinion, Matt Waxman’s paper, and numerous conversations with Marty) to the two pre-existing prongs. But I see this more in the realm of refinement and addition of greater detail than as a broad change. That said, if it makes Marty more comfortable, I’m delighted…

So Are They All Just Criminals?

by Benjamin Wittes

Deborah poses what I think is really the pivotal question in the whole detention debate: If you design the detention regime reasonable and fairly–as I propose to do–isn’t your detainable class limited to people who are actually criminals and, if so, why not just try them as criminals? I believe, largley based on Bobby’s excellent work on this subject, that the substantive answer to her question is yes. Anyone (or almost anyone) detainable under the scheme as I envision it would, in an ideal world, be prosecutable as a criminal, for he has committed a crime. But we don’t live in an ideal world. In our actual world, there are likely to be prohibitive practical barriers to that prosecution in some cases; these are the problems that a reasonable detention scheme can constitutionally help alleviate. The debate turns heavily on how large and dangerous one believes that set of cases to be.

On the substantive side, there are likely people at Guantanamo (taking all government allegations as true for the purposes of argument) who committed no crime as the law stood in 2001. Since then, however, the laws have changed and almost any meaningful affiliation with, material support of, or training with Al Qaeda would now generate criminal liability. Bobby has argued powerfully that the problem is not in the scope of the detention authority the criminal law currently contemplates…

The al-Marwalah Detention

by Marty Lederman

I’m tentatively encouraged by Ben’s new articulated test for detainability, which is not everything I’d hope for (especially if the “impracticability of criminal trial” prong is read broadly), but begins to bridge the gap.

Ben’s proposal in his book, however, is much more troubling.

My premise, and that of the judges in al-Marri, is that the detention authority Congress conferred in the AUMF — the maximum authority that the Constitution allows, per Judge Wilkinson — must be viewed as analogous to the traditional wartime detention authority, as translated to the new context of this noninternational conflict against a terrorist organization, and informed by the laws of war.

The detention authority Ben would have Congress authorize, by contrast, is one whose “premises differ fundamentally from those of wartime detentions” (p.162). In what way? Well, a “responsible” Congress “would treat these detentions openly and candidly for what they are: preventive incarcerations designed to keep extremely dangerous individuals from acting on their deeply held murderous beliefs and instincts.” According to Ben, this acknowledgement is “a psychological Rubicon we simply need to cross.”

Sorry, but I’m staying on this (constitutional) side of that line…