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Law and the Long War: The Future of Justice in the Age of Terror Hardcover – June 19, 2008

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Editorial Reviews

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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From Booklist

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 The legal foundation for surveillance, rendition, torture, and Guantánamo is thus cobbled together out of outdated and ill-fitting materials, and its flaws are glaring.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

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 320 pages
  • Publisher: Penguin Press HC, The; First Edition edition (June 19, 2008)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 159420179X
  • ISBN-13: 978-1594201790
  • Product Dimensions: 6.3 x 1.2 x 9.3 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.1 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 3.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (7 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,764,006 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

10 of 14 people found the following review helpful By Kenneth Anderson on July 4, 2008
Format: Hardcover
Benjamin Wittes, a former editorial writer for the Washington Post, has written the indispensable book on reforming US policy on detainees at Guantanamo. His exhaustive reading of everything that has been said, by the government, by the detainees themselves uncoerced in open hearings, so to give the best available portrait of the men at Guantanamo today - not those who were there in the first years, but those who are there now - is worth the price of the book. His policy prescriptions are well thought out, moderate, temperate, and are a special call to Congress to stop sniping from the sidelines and actually decide what to do. I do not think that anyone can have a serious opinion about what to do about detainee policy without reading this book.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful By Daniel Burton on February 6, 2009
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
The law of terrorism is a difficult topic to broach, no matter what your political affiliation, and given the history of the last eight years since 9/11, it has become even more difficult. However, even as a non-lawyer, Wittes provides some interesting and compelling ideas. His evaluation of what has happened provides engaging discussion of not only how the Congress and President Bush have tried to grapple with the new and difficult issues presented by terror in a globalized world. Terrorists don't fall under the normal classifications of enemy soldiers, who are acting as instruments of the state, nor do they quite seem to qualify as criminals, and therefore for all the rights and procedures that come with the US criminal procedure regime.

SO what system of law do you apply? Obviously, detainees for terrorism cannot be kept incommunicado indefinitely, but neither can they be treated as common criminals. A hybrid system? And lead by whom: the executive or the Congress? And why hasn't the judiciary taken a more leading role in preserving the basic human rights of detainees.

No easy answers, but Wittes does a good job of examining what has happened to date, and what might be the course of action Congress (who he believes should take the lead) might take in the future to remedy some of the failings of the Bush Administration.
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7 of 10 people found the following review helpful By Mark Wylie on June 3, 2011
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
Author Benjamin Wittes opens his much-praised book with a shocking display of intellectual dishonesty. To make the case for, in Dick Cheney's words, "working the dark side" in the "war on terror," he offers a supposedly illuminating anecdote. But instead of illumination, he gives us a naked bait-and-switch ploy, he crosses the line by violating Godwin's Law, and he wildly distorts the facts of his anecdote as well as exaggerating the implications thereof.

I very nearly stopped reading right at that point, but I continued on. Surely, I thought, a book so highly praised couldn't all be like that terrible, Glenn Beck-like opening. Surely a book lauded for being "masterful," "fair-minded" and "thoughtful" would start to overflow with wisdom if I just persevered. Well, that didn't happen. The book is terrible from start to finish.

Space doesn't permit me to explore every issue that Wittes addresses, so to illuminate the flaws in his book I'll focus on his treatment of the issue of detention. Wittes announces his intention to get Americans who love liberty, like me, to "cross the psychological Rubicon" of admitting the supposed necessity of locking up large numbers of people not because they have committed crimes, but because someone in the government decides that they might commit crimes in the future.

Wittes begins his efforts by trying to show that detention is as American as apple pie, by giving what he says are examples of "routine" detention that are "given no thought" by Americans. He fails to persuade the skeptical reader, however. His "closest to home" example of supposedly legitimate detention is the confinement of the mentally ill.
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4 of 5 people found the following review helpful By M. E. Bowman on August 30, 2008
Format: Hardcover
First rate logic. The author has wrapped a very keen mind around a very difficult subject area and produced a highly readable book that is nothing less than a public service.
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