What Al Qaeda couldn’t defeat: The military-political bureaucracy

Andrew Cohen writes: “It’s a very tricky theme to play out politically,” law professor and longtime Obama devotee Geoffrey Stone is quoted saying without a trace of irony or regret near the end of The Terror Courts: Rough Justice at Guantanamo Bay, Jess Bravin’s excellent new book. The book focuses on the epic and continuing failure of America’s military tribunals to process suspects following the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001. “You are asking people to be better than they have to be.”

It’s a quote that could be the epitaph for the whole disgraceful affair. At nearly every step of the way, for more than 11 years, our elected officials, military leaders, and judges have failed or refused to be “better than they have to be” when it comes to the treatment of the detainees. “You’ve got to be kidding me,” then-Attorney General John Ashcroft says prophetically, early in Bravin’s book. When Ashcroft comes off as a Wise Man you know something is terribly amiss.

Indeed, over and over, when faced with a moral or legal choice as to how to proceed, our government officials chose poorly– violating foreign and domestic law, precluding civilian trials, sabotaging our own national security, stifling internal dissent, confounding our allies, rewarding bureaucratic mindlessness, and setting up the vaunted military tribunals to fail in a hundred different ways which, of course, they have in the 4,212 days since the Twin Towers fell.

Which is why you should read this book now, while the hunger strike at Guantanamo Bay is growing. You should read it now, while there is a pending request by the Pentagon to spend another $49 million for a new prison on Cuba. You should read it now, while John Yoo is still the go-to guy for quotes about interrogations, and while Senators John McCain and Lindsey Graham, crows on a wire, are still offering up terrible advice about prosecuting detainees. [Continue reading…]

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