Terrorism Trials: Legislative Development


By Benjamin Wittes
Tuesday, October 25, 2011, 9:24 AM

May God bless their little souls. The poor dears really are trying. The New York Times editorial page has now corrected its correction.

This is getting meta, and this post will be incomprehensible to those have not read my earlier post and updates concerning the Times' Sunday editorial and its factual difficulties. But here goes.

After first correcting one error (the authorship of the Senate NDAA compromise) but leaving several others (the confusion of 42 votes with 47 votes, the confusion of "and" and "or," and the falsification of multiple earlier statements concerning the legality of non-criminal detention), the Times then corrected the vote count but introduced a new error--applying that vote count to the wrong vote (on the NDAA compromise instead of the Ayotte amendment). They have now corrected that problem. Their correction now reads as follows:

An editorial on Sunday about military detentions misstated the number of senators who voted for a measure that would have stopped federal courts from trying terrorism cases. It was 47, not 42. The editorial also should have said that an almost equally bad measure was produced by Senators Carl Levin and John McCain, not Mr. Levin alone.

So now we have two errors corrected, and the correction's error likewise fixed. This leaves two remaining factual problems. The more important one is that the correct statement of the law in this editorial directly contradicts a number of earlier statements concerning the law of detention. But there's no chance the Times can fix that matter in a correction.

That leaves one clear factual mistake that they have inexplicably not corrected: their confusion of "and" and "or." Perhaps they regard the manner in which they describe the NDAA's mandatory detention provision as within the bounds of opinion. If so, I would submit they would have to regard the following two statements as equally true:

  1. "Either New York Times editorial writers have no sense of logic or they are willfully failing to correct this error."
  2. "New York Times editorial writers have no sense of logic and they are willfully failing to correct this error."

While I am not certain which of these statements is true, I am certain that one of them must be--and that they are in any event not equivalent statements. Similarly, I am certain that a bill that reads, "a member of . . . al-Qaeda. . . and . . . a participant in the course of . . . an attack . . . against the United States or its coalition partners" cannot reasonably be described--even in an editorial--as "a member of Al Qaeda, or of planning or carrying out an attack on the United States or any country deemed to be an ally at any particular time."

Come on guys, you're almost there and I'm really proud of you. Just one more try.