Saturday, March 19, 2016

Jess Bravin's The Terror Courts

I read Jess Bravin's The Terror Courts: Rough Justice at Guantanamo Bay (2013). It tells the story of how The Bush administration envisioned military courts being a way of dispensing loose justice, but then also how highly ethical military lawyers worked to reject evidence based on torture. It's a great read, though disappointing how its common sense lessons don't penetrate more into the public consciousness.

Bravin is a Wall Street Journal reporter. His narrative keeps coming back to Lt. Col. Stu Couch, who was one of those lawyers. He was dedicated to holding people accountable for 9/11 but then discovered that for the most part these were low level Al Qaeda operatives and that they had been tortured. Meanwhile, the military justice system itself was ill-equipped to deal with the prisoners. The obvious point was that anger about 9/11 should not mean throwing our constitutional values out the window.

For me, perhaps the most important lesson of the book is that federal courts are much more effective than military courts for effective prosecution. This is critical in the current debate over Guantamano. There remains a perception that holding people there somehow is "safer" or more effective. Federal prosecutors wanted to get their hands on some of the suspects, but instead they were tried in a chaotic and sometimes even bungling military commission system. All to our detriment.


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