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Misreading My Views on Commissions

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Tuesday, January 25, 2011 at 7:25 PM

Over at the Huffington Post and again at Human Rights First’s blog, Raha Wala (Law and Security Fellow, Georgetown) argues that I am arm-in-arm with Marc Thiessen and Andy McCarthy in “declaring victory” over the administration’s decision to allow commissions to again move forward.  Wala writes:

Meanwhile, Robert Chesney, who has not typically been a vocal supporter of military commissions, argues that military commissions really are not that bad, and that civil liberties advocates’ insistence on civilian trials for terrorism suspects is misplaced.

Two of these three claims are accurate.  I have not typically been a vocal supporter of commissions.  And I did argue in the linked piece (at Foreign Policy) that commissions under the MCA 2009 really are not that bad.  But I’ve never spoken out against civilian trial for terrorism suspects, did not do so in the piece to which Wala links, and do not think one has to oppose civilian prosecution in order to concede that commissions aren’t that bad and that they can be legitimate in some circumstances. 

The article to which Wala links spends as much time debunking pro-commission arguments as it does critiquing those directed against commissions, though you would not know this from Wala’s account.  Here is the key sentence, which Wala surely read: “The commissions are neither the monstrosities their critics sometimes suggest nor the solution their supporters imagine.”  

All that said, I appreciate that Wala might have been led astray by the title and subheading that the editors at Foreign Policy affixed to the piece (describing commissions as the “Least Worst Venue,” and mentioning only my response to anti-commission arguments).  I had no control over those lines whatsoever, alas, and only saw them when the piece went live.  So perhaps this accounts for the confusion.