NPR Declares Indefinite Detention Pragmatic
This morning NPR features "an exclusive first look at a legal proposal....a detailed plan for holding terrorism suspects without trial, and it comes from two experts outside of the government." Inspite of the two "experts" mentioned by David Greene, Ari Shapiro only interviews one of them, Benjamin Wittes of the Brookings Institution.
According to Shapiro "Wittes occupies a relatively unique position in national security. He has studied and written books on pragmatic approaches to fighting terrorism." [Actually he has written only one book on terrorism - Law and the Long War.]
I don't have any problem with NPR interviewing Wittes. Unfortunately, he is an important fish in circles of state power in Washington, DC, though - not surprisingly - his ideas are not particularly fresh or inspiring, and he heartily supports for projections of US military and foreign policy hegemony. Consider the Publisher's Weekly and Booklist reviews of his book:
- PW: "Both a defense and critique of the Bush administration, the book argues in favor of many of the measures taken by the executive branch while condemning its failure to secure congressional cooperation and the necessary legal architecture to back policies that were bound to be unpopular."
- Booklist: "Wittes remains highly sympathetic to the administration’s aims, giving them the benefit of the doubt on matters that other critics of the administration have not. Ultimately, his hope is that innovative legal structures will be forthcoming and seen as legitimate in a way that current efforts are not."
As Wittes himself states in an article on the seventh anniversary of the 9/11 attacks, "we have no choice but to continue the war on terror in some form."
My problem with NPR's coverage of Wittes is that it is an endorsement of Wittes' viewpoint. In spite of his utter lack of credentials in the area of human rights, international, or Constitutional law and his rather conventional apologist approach to torture, he is a "expert" with "pragmatic approaches." As Glenn Greewald notes, Wittes can't even get the most basic Constitutional points correct when he argues for "legal" dictatorial powers for the President.
And what is the thinking behind Wittes' expert, pragmatic approaches? Consider this excerpt of the report:
(Shapiro) "So why push for indefinite detention at all? Well, Wittes says we already have it. People have been at Guantanamo for years. There are thousands more in Afghanistan...." (Wittes) "And so there's no question that we're detaining people outside of the criminal justice system. The question is what the rules are for those detentions and who makes those rules."
Look closely at the logic of this.
So why push to codify and legalize practice __________?
Because __________ is already being done!
All you have to do is put any debased government abuse of power in the blank - torture, rape, murder, rendition, illegal surveillance, etc. to see where this can lead. In Wittes' world (and NPR's by extension) the problem is not with the practice itself and a craven and complicit Congress that refuses its constitutional role of holding the executive office perpetrators accountable. Instead, the problem is that Congress has been slow to enact legislation to codify the practices. And according to Wittes, this reluctance to legislate away basic Constitutional values - and this is where he becomes a hero of the Weekly Standard security state devotees - opens up the possibilty of serious judicial oversight -OMG!
As Grumpy Demo points out on his blog - this is the kind of logic would please anyone who is hoping that our three branches of government would get "pragmatic" and realize that what we really need in the "war on terror" is a Unitary Benevolent Authoritarian Strong Man in the mold of Pinochet, Peron, or Castro.