Boy have I come in for a shellacking from readers and other civil libertarians. Glenn Greenwald's latest is quite a barrage of logic, legal expertise and passion, but in trying to think these questions through some more, I found the comments section on Daniel Larison's blog-post here more helpful. Indeed, it's almost a model of intelligent debate on this subject. And it highlights what I think are some useful and important good faith differences between those of us who all agreed on the horror of the Bush administration's invocation of dictatorial executive powers in the detention and treatment of prisoners of war and those of us who now nonetheless disagree on some important aspects of what I continue to call a war on Jihadist terrorism.
Our first disagreement is a fundamental one. I believe this is a war, not some kind of lesser counter-terrorism operation, or a global criminal operation. I understand that it is not always prudent to blast this term around, for fear of empowering the theocratic murderers who want to kill us; and I concede that this is a fluid term, with threats waxing and waning; I concede that we may at time over-estimate the forces against us; and that the trauma of 9/11 should not dictate our every move. But there are groups and individuals out there trying to kill as many Westerners, and fellow Muslims, as they can, and to do so with no qualms and with as much damage as possible. This is not a chimera. Attacks have continued every year since 9/11 and before. The perpetrators of 9/11 remain at large. New bases in Yemen and Somalia and Iraq and Pakistan and Afghanistan exist. If they could get their hands on some form of WMDs, they would. And they'd use them.
Moreover, the war against these amorphous forces of al Qaeda is perfectly constitutional, having been authorized by the Congress, against an enemy that directly attacked the mainland of the United States, and had already attacked US embassies and warships, and murdered the civilians of allies, most grotesquely in London and Madrid. I did not reproduce the image of the destroyed World Trade Center for some cheap attempt at moral blackmail, or to propagate irrational fear, but to remind ourselves of the scale of the damage inflicted by a military organization that is still determined to kill as many of us as it can, and is even now re-grouping to kill more in the name of God.