Benjamin Wittes

The Administration’s Strategic Errors—And Some Free Advice

As things stand now, the National Defense Authorization Act could end up being a disaster for the Obama administration on detainee matters. Much of the fault for this lies with Congress, a bipartisan majority of which insists upon injecting reckless and irresponsible detainee-related policy ideas into what should be a careful effort to craft long-term law. But let’s be frank: The administration and President Obama personally also bear non-trivial responsibility for the current state of affairs. Faced with a Congress that clearly wants to legislate in this space–which is hardly a bad thing, in and of itself–the President has articulated no coherent vision of what constructive legislation would look like. In fact, since his National Archives speech more than two years ago–a speech in which he promised to “work with Congress to develop an appropriate legal regime so that our efforts are consistent with our values and our Constitution”–he has had virtually nothing to say about the subject at all. He has, quite simply, refused to lead and thus created the vacuum that Congress is filling with a combination of good, bad, and ugly ideas.

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