Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Benjamin Wittes Criticizes Obama on Detentions

Benjamin Wittes has a searing (and I mean searing) criticism of President Obama in today's Washington Post (here).

Evidently, Obama recently decided not to give Congress the authority to write rules regarding the detention of enemy combatants. I had not heard about this. By maintaining rule-making authority exclusively in the executive branch, Wittes says that (1) standards for officials in the field will remain unclear (and there will be incentives for targeted killings and detention by proxies) and (2) the ultimate decisions will be left to the courts, which themselves have been unable to agree on standards (thus, eventually the decisions will fall to the Supreme Court and -- ultimately -- to Justice Kennedy).

Wittes' money line:

We may never know what would have happened had Obama been willing to divert some portion of his prestige from health care to the creation of a political coalition for strong counterterrorism measures rooted in statutory powers debated and passed by the people's representatives.

How very curious, though, that so much of American political culture finds it more comfortable for him to get in touch with his inner Dick Cheney than to try.

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