Obama Law

The Case for a New Detention Law
An email conversation about the news of the day.
Dec. 9 2008 11:49 AM

Obama Law


Dear Emily, et al.—

Great questions. Here's the first part of some tentative answers, focusing especially on the questions that you directed to Dahlia and me. My answers are tentative in the sense that many turn on factual matters that the Obama team should explore before locking itself into prefabricated answers:


New detention law? I lean toward thinking that Obama should propose such a law. But to do so right at the start might be premature. Instead, I have advocated that he appoint a blue ribbon, bipartisan commission to study all available information about the 250 or so detainees who remain at Guantanamo and to issue detailed findings that would be, as much as possible, public.

It seems likely that, as the military claims, the facts will show that a great many of these men are both very dangerous and impossible to convict of any serious crime in ordinary civilian or military courts. Why impossible? In many cases because the strongest evidence would be inadmissible based on ordinary rules of evidence such as the hearsay rule and based on the requirement that even the most sensitive classified evidence that is shown to the jury also be shown to defense counsel and the defendant. Also, based on rules against use of statements made in coercive interrogations, without Miranda warnings, and the like. In addition, some prisoners who have committed no known or provable crimes have made it clear in statements at Guantanamo that they want to kill as many Americans as they can if and when released.

What to do with dangerous prisoners who cannot be prosecuted? Bush's system of military commissions has failed so badly for so long that it does not provide a credible solution. The best alternative—as ideologically diverse experts including Neal Katyal, Jack Goldsmith, Andy McCarthy, and Ben Wittes have argued—might be a new national-security court staffed by Article III federal judges, on the model of the FISA court. If properly designed by the administration and Congress, such a court could provide fair and credible opportunities for detainees to show that they should be released without compromising national-security secrets.

Would this be preventive detention? Yes, it would. Can we do it without violating the Constitution? Yes, we can.

More soon on your other questions.


Click here to read the next entry.



The World’s Politest Protesters

The Occupy Central demonstrators are courteous. That’s actually what makes them so dangerous.

The Religious Right Is Not Happy With Republicans  

The XX Factor
Oct. 1 2014 4:58 PM The Religious Right Is Not Happy With Republicans  

The Feds Have Declared War on Encryption—and the New Privacy Measures From Apple and Google

The One Fact About Ebola That Should Calm You

It spreads slowly.

These “Dark” Lego Masterpieces Are Delightful and Evocative


Operation Backbone

How White Boy Rick, a legendary Detroit cocaine dealer, helped the FBI uncover brazen police corruption.


Talking White

Black people’s disdain for “proper English” and academic achievement is a myth.

Activists Are Trying to Save an Iranian Woman Sentenced to Death for Killing Her Alleged Rapist

Piper Kerman on Why She Dressed Like a Hitchcock Heroine for Her Prison Sentencing

  News & Politics
Oct. 1 2014 7:26 PM Talking White Black people’s disdain for “proper English” and academic achievement is a myth.
Oct. 1 2014 2:16 PM Wall Street Tackles Chat Services, Shies Away From Diversity Issues 
Oct. 1 2014 6:02 PM Facebook Relaxes Its “Real Name” Policy; Drag Queens Celebrate
  Double X
The XX Factor
Oct. 1 2014 5:11 PM Celebrity Feminist Identification Has Reached Peak Meaninglessness
  Slate Plus
Behind the Scenes
Oct. 1 2014 3:24 PM Revelry (and Business) at Mohonk Photos and highlights from Slate’s annual retreat.
Brow Beat
Oct. 1 2014 9:39 PM Tom Cruise Dies Over and Over Again in This Edge of Tomorrow Supercut
Future Tense
Oct. 1 2014 6:59 PM EU’s Next Digital Commissioner Thinks Keeping Nude Celeb Photos in the Cloud Is “Stupid”
  Health & Science
Oct. 1 2014 4:03 PM Does the Earth Really Have a “Hum”? Yes, but probably not the one you’re thinking.
Sports Nut
Oct. 1 2014 5:19 PM Bunt-a-Palooza! How bad was the Kansas City Royals’ bunt-all-the-time strategy in the American League wild-card game?