In Katie Bacon’s article on the new HLS-Brookings Institution Project on Law and Security (“Double Strength,” Winter 2012), co-founder Benjamin Wittes claims that the project will “[produce] nonideological analytic work” for the benefit of policymakers. The project may indeed bring together students and academics to approach national security issues, such as the government’s “secret” drone assassination program and its apparently endless imprisonment of suspected “enemy combatants” without charge or trial, from a variety of perspectives. Some, perhaps, will conduct their analyses free of ideology.
But Ms. Bacon should have noted that Mr. Wittes takes the field very much as a partisan: a partisan not of either party, but of broad fealty to executive power, official impunity and extraconstitutional detention policy. To take one example, Mr. Wittes has argued on his Lawfare blog against legal accountability for the policymakers and lawyers who constructed the Bush administration’s secret prison and detainee torture regime (even in Ms. Bacon’s article, Mr. Wittes dismisses the notion of “endless events talking about interrogation techniques”). The Obama Justice Department’s abdication of its responsibility under the Convention Against Torture and the War Crimes Act to credibly investigate the torture program suggests that Mr. Wittes’ views are in line with those that prevail in the halls of power. Those views nevertheless represent a particular ideology, extreme in its exaltation of the prerogatives of authority at the expense of universal human dignity. As we enter our second decade of post-9/11 wars, it would have been helpful if Ms. Bacon had reminded the Bulletin’s readers where Mr. Wittes, and the Brookings Institution, are coming from.