From Publishers Weekly
Brookings Institution fellow Wittes evaluates the war on terror from a refreshingly nonpartisan perspective that assesses the chasm between the gravity of American security needs and the inadequacy of its laws. Both a defense and critique of the Bush administration, the book argues in favor of many of the measures taken by the executive branch while condemning its failure to secure congressional cooperation and the necessary legal architecture to back policies that were bound to be unpopular. Wittes reserves his real ire for a legislature that has ignored its mandated responsibility of creating coherent, legal structure for this war and a Supreme Court that has attempted to extend its jurisdiction over detainees and is increasingly interfering in foreign policy. Wittes's familiarity with the law and excellent analysis of contemporary Supreme Court cases give this book insight that transcends party politics and make for a fascinating read; however, his heavy reliance on legalese may alienate casual readers. His prose, when not bogged down by jargon, is appealing (The Constitution is old—old and short) and services a robust call to action. (June)
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Legal affairs columnist Wittes here examines various legal aspects of the Bush administration’s war on terror, arguing that the structures that are currently in place are inadequate for protracted counterterrorism efforts. The key problem, he finds, is that the administration has asked Congress to create new laws only when the administration felt it had no alternative (and Congress has been content to stand aside). As a result, there exists no “mature legal architecture” (i.e., substantive legislation of adequate breadth and flexibility) for dealing with the civil liberties and human rights concerns that arise in response to aggressive counterterrorism policies. The legal foundation for surveillance, rendition, torture, and Guantánamo is thus cobbled together out of outdated and ill-fitting materials, and its flaws are glaring. In spite of such condemnation, Wittes remains highly sympathetic to the administration’s aims, giving them the benefit of the doubt on matters that other critics of the administration have not. Ultimately, his hope is that innovative legal structures will be forthcoming and seen as legitimate in a way that current efforts are not. --Brendan Driscoll