Monday, April 07, 2008

Jeffrey Toobin's New Yorker article on the future of Guantanamo

The New Yorker's Jeffrey Toobin has a new article on the future of Guantanamo.  It features a visit to Guantanamo by Toobin, but also summarizes data developed by Ben Wittes on the characteristics of the detainees - any way to tell who is a continuing threat and who is not? - as part of his forthcoming book.  It also has a very interesting discussion on the idea of a national security court, and is nice enough to mention a conference that Steve Vladeck, Dan Marcus, Ben Wittes and I put on at Washington College of Law, American University, this past February 1, on the idea of a national security court.  Toobin attended that conference, which had an all star cast.  

The article has some interesting commentary from Jack Goldsmith and others on the possibility that the Bush administration will go back to Congress with some kind of proposal for a civilian national security court, in time for the November election.  One striking feature of the current presidential campaigns, of course, is that although everyone favors closing Guantanamo, no one wants to get very specific about what happens next.  So far as I can tell, McCain favors closing Guantanamo but continuing the military commission trials under current law.  Obama seems to favor closing Guantanamo and turning the detainees over for trial in regular federal court.  Clinton seems to favor closing Guantanamo and turning the detainees over to some kind of regular federal court trial but with perhaps some national security modifications.  I have my intrepid research assistants tracking down the candidates' statements, and perhaps will write up something for the Weekly Standard, but what seems currently to be out there is noteworthy for what it does not want to say.  

Jack G's point, says Toobin, is that the Bush administration may decide to put everyone - the candidates, the Congress, everyone - on the spot in time for the election.  That is fine with me; I have always opposed the Bush administration's assertions of executive power in this area, with the consequence of letting everyone else off the hook of accountability, and have always favored forcing everyone to raise their hands and vote on exactly and plainly US policy in so important a matter ought to be.  Toobin  implies that the Bush administration forcing that to happen with the Military Commissions Act at the moment of the fall midterm elections was a sort of cheap electoral advantage - no doubt it was entirely calculated.  But it also seems to me quite right; an election and an election campaign seems to me exactly the right moment when candidates and officeholders should be forced to stand up and be counted, whatever their views.  What better moment for accountability to the voters than in an ... election?

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