in Kulturkampf

Big Government at Guantanamo

Let’s say there’s a dangerous dog in your neighborhood. Nearby are two agencies, one with a truck that has a cage in the back and experienced professionals who catch dogs all the time. The other doesn’t normally deal with loose hounds, but has lots of guns and explosives. Which would make more sense: calling animal control, or the National Guard? At MoJo, Adam Serwer reports that Congress is ready to do the equivalent of the latter with terrorism suspects:

Obama administration officials fear that the mandatory detention provisions could force the FBI to interrupt ongoing investigations in order to hand suspected terrorists over to the military. They also worry that the new rules could interfere with the prosecution of suspected terrorists in federal courts. At a homeland security and counterterrorism conference in September, White House counterterrorism adviser John Brennan warned that “this approach would impose unprecedented restrictions on the ability of experienced professionals to combat terrorism.”

By “experienced professionals,” Serwer means highly-trained and experienced law enforcement agents. Congress has seen fit to continue of the Cheney doctrine, blocking every attempt to bring terrorism suspects before the law. By these lights, the FBI — which deals with criminal minds every day and has a sterling record of success with terrorists — is the wrong agency to handle such persons, while the Department of Defense — an agency not at all equipped for holding, handling, or prosecuting such persons — is the right agency to do so.

We must do this (Congress says) because terrorists are not like regular criminals. But they aren’t like regular prisoners of war, either (remember, they’re unlawful combatants). So they can’t be handled in any kind of normal way by any branch of government — they’re special, see? Instead of putting them in $50 million “supermax” prisons, we must keep them in makeshift facilities beyond the reach of law. This legal innovation doesn’t actually make anyone safer, but it does allow Congresscritters to posture as tough on terrorism — and that’s what is really going on here.

Nothing about this advances national security or justice or the rule of law. It’s the very caricature of Big, Bad, Ineffectual Government Bean-counters screwing around in things they don’t understand, with consequences they will never have to face themselves. Congress sees no downside in saying no to the rule of law here, and that even includes Bernie Sanders.

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