All’s Fair in Lawfare

Screenshot of the Lwfare website

With contributors from all sides, the new blog is essential reading for leading thinkers on law and security

A little over a year ago, HLS Professor Jack Goldsmith, Benjamin Wittes and Robert Chesney ’97 decided almost on a whim to put their collective experience and expertise in law and security together. They launched Lawfare, a blog with op-ed-style postings on anything from Guantánamo habeas litigation to targeted killings to cybersecurity—essentially any subject where the legal system rubbed up against national security.

Though the site made its debut with little planning or forethought, it almost immediately became de rigueur for people in the field of national security law, including judges, civil-liberties activists, journalists, academics, and people on Capitol Hill and in the military and intelligence communities. “Its readership is pretty small but pretty darn influential on the galactic scheme of things,” says Paul Rosenzweig, who was deputy assistant secretary for policy at the Department of Homeland Security under George W. Bush and now teaches cybersecurity law and policy at George Washington University and runs Red Branch, a strategic consulting firm focused on privacy and security issues.

For an example of the type of reader and contributor Lawfare draws, Rosenzweig points to a series of five posts by Mark Martins ’90, an Army brigadier general, about the military’s efforts to build the rule of law in Afghanistan. “It’s talking about things that I think are very important at a good level of sophistication and among people who may be able to actually do something about it,” Rosenzweig says.

Perhaps even more important, Lawfare has become that rare place where people from all sides can come to discuss thorny issues in a civil way. “The blog promotes a healthy discussion on issues of intense interest. You can’t have a forum for discussion of these serious issues if everyone’s shooting at one another,” says David Remes ’79, a human rights lawyer who represents Guantánamo detainees in habeas corpus cases.

For its founders, both the impact of Lawfare and the intellectual rewards of writing a blog were unanticipated. Goldsmith says that he was initially quite hesitant about doing Lawfare, because he saw blogging as a “less rigorous discipline and form of scholarship than the kind I valued.” But now he’s come to see it as an “important channel for trying out ideas and putting them out in the world.” Chesney shared that hesitation but says he eventually realized that blogging—unlike writing law review articles or books—allowed the type of speedy response necessary to potentially shape fast-moving national-security debates: “These issues were churning so quickly that the opportunity to influence the debate was often missed. If you want your legal analysis to have an impact, you have to be in that space.” Wittes, for his part, says, “There’s an immediacy of the relationship to a particularly devoted and important reader that’s like nothing I’ve ever experienced. It’s become a forum for significant debate among people for whom no other such forums exist.”