Over the course of President Obama's first term in office, the president and senior officials of his administration have given a series of major speeches on the legal framework for confronting terrorists overseas. The speeches collectively represent the fullest statement the administration has given of the law of drones, targeted killing, and the larger approach to the war against Al Qaeda and its allies. The Obama administration has faced criticism both for the content of the speeches and for not saying more in them–and releasing the legal memos that lie beneath them. In Speaking the Law, Kenneth Anderson and Benjamin Wittes dissect the Obama administration's major speeches on national security law–analyzing what the administration has actually said, fleshing out the virtues and vices of the legal framework it has mapped out, and suggesting areas for legislative refinement and further administration development.


Anderson and Wittes offer an overview of the book and describe the Obama administration's extraordinary series of speeches on national security legal issues. Read more

Chapter 1
The first chapter gives an account of what the administration has actually said across a range of critical national security legal questions. Read more

Chapter 2
Anderson and Wittes evaluate the legal framework the government has described: Where is it strong? Where is it weak? Where does it need further development? Read more

Chapter 3
The authors examine the involvement of the judiciary in defining detention authority, its non-involvement in targeting matters, Congress’s involvement in defining the rules for military commissions, its authorization for detention in the National Defense Authorization Act of 2012, and its restrictions on detainee transfers in that legislation. Read more

Chapter 4
In chapter 4, the authors discuss the Obama administration’s speeches in response to the NSA revelations made public by Edward Snowden and review the involvement of other branches of government in the legal framework described in the administration’s national security speeches. Read more

Chapter 5
In chapter 5, the authors look at the criticisms of the Obama administration’s legal policies on counterterrorism from both the political Right and the political Left—and explain why they largely reject both.  Read more


Kenneth Anderson is a professor of international law at Washington College of Law, American University, Washington, D.C., and a visiting fellow at the Hoover Institution. He specializes in international law, human rights and the laws of war, as well as international business law, international development, and not-for-profit law.

Benjamin Wittes is a senior fellow in governance studies at the Brookings Institution and codirector of the Harvard Law School–Brookings Project on Law and Security. He is the author of Detention and Denial: The Case for Candor after Guantanamo and the cofounder of the Lawfare blog.

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