Andy Worthington Responds

By Benjamin Wittes
Wednesday, November 24, 2010, 12:40 PM

I received the following note from Andy Worthington in response to my earlier post about his article. I appreciate very much his clarifications, which read in relevant part:

My intention was not to describe you and Jack and Robert as "fueled by blind vengeance and a thorough disdain for the law"--and I apologize if that was unclear. I thought it was clear that I was referring back to the Republican lawmakers and their ideologically-driven disdain for federal court trials and for the absolute prohibition on the use of torture, and their mistaken enthusiasm for Military Commissions.

I also would like to clarify my position regarding the prisoners at Guantanamo, which also relates to your views on indefinite detention. You may, if you wish, describe me as "absurdly credulous of the innocence of just about everyone at the base," but in fact I have never stated any such thing. I believe that around three dozen of the prisoners--maybe a little more, maybe a little less--have anything in their case histories to indicate that they had any involvement with terrorism, and that, of the rest, roughly half were innocent men, seized by mistake, or through the opportunism that develops in one's allies when large bounty payments are offered for "al-Qaeda and Taliban suspects," and the other half were foot soldiers for the Taliban.

And as you also know, I'm sure, my problem with the detention policy is that I believe the Authorization for Use of Military Force, passed by Congress the week after the 9/11 attacks, which, with a ruling by the Supreme Court in 2004, is used to justify the prisoners' detention at Guantanamo, is an unacceptable alternative to the Geneva Conventions as a means of holding wartime prisoners until the end of hostilities. I also believe that those accused of terrorist activities should be tried in federal court, as they have been for many years both before and after the 9/11 attacks. What galls me, and will continue to gall me, is holding both soldiers and terror suspects indefinitely as "enemy combatants"--or, as they now are, "alien unprivileged enemy belligerents"--as though the Bush administration's creation of a new category of prisoner--one without any rights at all--was fundamentally correct.

As a result, I don't see the need for any new legislation, and, indeed, am deeply troubled by any proposal that would further undermine the Geneva Conventions and the success of the US courts in prosecuting terrorist suspects by refining the innovations introduced by the Bush administration, which showed a particular disdain for the strengths of domestic and international law, and for the robustness and importance of international treaties. Instead, I would like to see the AUMF repealed, wartime prisoners held according to the Geneva Conventions (and this applies to Bagram as well, and wartime detention in any future conflicts), and those accused of involvement in terrorist activities to be tried in federal court.