Advancing a Free Society

Detention and Denial Now Available

Monday, January 3, 2011

I am reliably informed (having checked the site) that Detention and Denial: The Case for Candor After Guantanamo is now available from–which presumably means it is available at other book stores as well. I will post a few excerpts over the next few days–the first one later today–to tantalize you. The book makes the ideal gift for that hard-to-please someone who just happens to be obsessed with U.S. detention policy and the failures of the U.S. political system to face hard problems squarely. It is very brief, non-technical, and attempts to distill the big themes from work I have done over the past few years on the subject. So buy it, read it, and send me your thoughts. I’m very interested to hear them.

Excerpt from the Introduction:

The greatest trick the Devil ever pulled was convincing the world that he didn’t exist,” says the low-grade con man to the arrogant customs agent in the 1995 movie The Usual Suspects, speaking of the great criminal mastermind Keyser Söze. The supposedly crack customs agent Kujan listens with patronizing incredulity to stories of the untrackable, invincible Söze, convinced that he knows the truth and that over time he can get the con man before him to spill the beans. Only in the movie’s final seconds does Agent Kujan realize that the con man himself is the master criminal—or at least someone who is exploiting his legend. And, having convinced Kujan that he doesn’t exist, he disappears: “And like that—he’s gone!”

U.S. counterterrorism policy has a bit of Agent Kujan’s Keyser Söze problem. The more successfully our forces take on the enemy, the less people believe that the Devil really exists—at least as an urgent public policy problem requiring the sort of tough measures that challenge other interests and values. The longer the United States goes without suffering a mass casualty attack on the homeland, the less apt people are to believe that al Qaeda and its affiliates and offshoots really pose a lethal threat, that September 11 was more than a lucky strike, that terrorism poses challenges that we cannot address through conventional law enforcement means alone, or that the problem ranks as high as other pressing challenges of the moment–challenges that, unlike al Qaeda, visibly threaten harm on a daily basis. Oil spills, job losses, the national debt, China’s rise, and North Korea’s saber rattling are all visible with the naked eye. We do not have the option of disbelief. Yet the more effectively we conduct counterterrorism, the more plausible disbelief becomes and the more uncomfortable we grow with policies like noncriminal detention, aggressive interrogation, and extraordinary rendition. The more we convince ourselves that the Devil doesn’t really exist, the less willing we are to use those tools, and we begin reining them in or eschewing them entirely. And we let the Devil walk out of the room.

Continue reading Benjamin Wittes at Lawfare...