Thursday, September 13, 2007

Expert meeting on detention policy in counterterrorism

I'm in Cleveland, at Case Western, for a meeting organized by the ICRC and the law school here on detention and counterterrorism policy. I'm delighted to be here - my goodness, Case Western is a beautiful campus, with lovely buildings old and new. The law school is in a handsome new building that just shouts, "Successful capital campaign!" It was nice of the ICRC to invite me to a meeting on a topic as important as this.

[A couple of paragraphs disappeared here, not sure why. I'll reconstruct them and repost them tomorrow. Weird.]

That's the substantive debate. The procedural debate is how to force Congress to take ownership of counterterrorism policy. As I've said repeatedly, it has no reason to do so, as long as the Addington Administration, if I can put it that way, persists in takng all the heat off it by insisting that Congress has no role. The administration bears all responsibility, Congress none, and Congress is therefore free to kibbitz and complain and snipe to its heart's content, knowing that it need make no affirmative decisions for which it, or the individual members, can be held responsible. It's a mad policy by the administration. I've been reading Jack Goldsmith's wonderful new book, The Terror Presidency, and it is clear that these issues, which people like me or Ben Wittes were writing about in the last couple of years, were central to Jack's thinking back when he was still at OLC - but he couldn't say anything. I heartily recommend Jack's book - it will be one of the few permanent volumes to come out of an insider in the Bush administration.

I also recommend highly Ben Wittes' Policy Review essay (I'll put the link in later) on the issue of finding the sensible middle ground in counterterrorism policy. It's a superb essay, the one most vividly to express the problem of those of us in the middle who worry both about the rule of law and protection of the United States - sitting, as Ben says, on the top of a hill with a slippery slope that runs in two directions - to a police state or to big bombs going off in American cities. The pure civil libertarians and human rights activists have decided that there's only one slippery slope to worry about; the pure national security types, in the Republic of Addington, have decided that there's also only one slippery slope to worry about, but it's not the same one as that of the civil libertarians. Then there are those of us, moral realists who hold to plural liberal values, who worry about them both.

That's the lay of the moral land, and the problem of finding one's way, not precisely to the middle ground, but to a ground that holds and respects both values simultaneously. That latter is not the same as finding middle ground; it is finding simultaneous ground.